AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A measure making it easier for parents to urge their school boards to close failing schools or convert them into charters was sent Thursday to the full Texas Senate for consideration, but with modifications adding an extra year to the process and seeking to ensure such efforts aren't led by outside groups.
The proposal sponsored by Republican Sen. Larry Taylor of Friendswood is meant to shorten the time it takes before "parent triggers" — provisions whereby parents can have local officials initiate action against poorly performing schools — can be enacted.
Currently, schools rated "Academically Unacceptable" for two straight years are subject to state intervention. If things don't improve for three additional years, a majority of parents can petition a school board for closure, staff changes or conversion to a charter.
Taylor's proposal would now allow parents to seek school board action just one year after state intervention. He originally wanted to let parents step in after the first two years of unacceptable ratings, but altered the measure to allow the process to begin after three years. He noted that still would allow for state intervention while giving communities time to see if things improve thereafter.
"This is another year to see if that works," Taylor said of state intervention.
He also endorsed an amendment by Democratic Sen. Eddie Lucio of Brownsville that added language preventing charter school operators from pressuring parents into urging the closure or conversion of struggling schools.
Lucio said the change will "ensure that parents' campaigns to remake their schools are actually grassroots, enacted and managed by parents alone without undo outside influence."
With those changes, the committee voted 8-0 to refer the bill to the full Senate and recommend passage of the amended version. Still, Democratic Sens. Royce West and Leticia Van De Putte said they'll also seek to add provisions to better explain to parents what "repurposing" a school, or even allowing it "to move to a charter or to private management," actually means for their children.
Taylor's measure has been cheered by conservatives as ensuring parents can hold schools accountable. But teachers' groups worry it will allow more traditional public schools to fall under the control of charter operators.
Meanwhile, Sen. Dan Patrick, a Houston Republican who chairs the education committee, has spent weeks campaigning for his proposal to authorize the most-dramatic expansion of charter schools in Texas since they first were authorized in 1995. For now, state authorities can issue a maximum 215 licenses to operate charter schools, which educate about 154,000 of Texas' five million-plus public school students.
Patrick's committee voted Tuesday to refer his bill to the full Senate with amendments rolling back some of its most ambitious proposals. It no longer allows for an unlimited number of charter licenses, and instead increases the cap by 10 for the 2014-2015 school year and by 15 each of the next two academic years.
The next three school years would then raise the maximum by 20 new charters each, but it drops back to 15 for the academic year beginning in 2020 and 10 for the 2021-2022 school year.
"For the first time, we're going to have a little bit of science in this thing," said Sen. Robert Duncan, a Lubbock Republican who sponsored the amendment. He added that gradually raising the charter school license ceiling Texas gets "more of a meter or a governor than a cap."
The amended bill also scraps Patrick's calls for a special board that could handle new charter applications, leaving them up to the Texas commissioner of education and the State Board of Education.
Both Van De Putte, of San Antonio, and West, of Dallas, complained they have not had enough input into charter school proposals — potentially threatening even the modified version of the bill once floor debate begins.
"I'm willing to continue to negotiate," West said. "But I want to be involved in the process."