Twin bills filed to funnel more money into charter schools

Harmony Public Schools (Erin Cargile/KXAN)
Harmony Public Schools (Erin Cargile/KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Texas lawmakers have filed two pieces of legislation — SB 457 and HB 2337 — that aim to address the funding gap between students at public charter schools and traditional school districts.

Specifically, the bills would set aside state funding for charters to use on facilities. Rep. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels, is one of the joint authors along with representatives from Dallas-Ft. Worth, San Antonio, Houston and the Rio Grande Valley, where a majority of charter schools educate students.

“It’s leveling the playing field,” said Dustin Cox, the director of External Relations for Harmony Public Schools.

KXAN met Cox at their south Austin campus on East St. Elmo, one of six Central Texas locations. It’s in an old industrial warehouse they lease near the corner of Interstate 35 and Ben White.

“This is pretty standard within the charter industry, but as you can see it comes with its own kind of constraints,” said Cox. “We had to remodel and re-purpose the facility.”

Cox says the money to do the work came from their maintenance and operations budget, which is also where the cash comes from to pay rent.

Like traditional public schools, charters get state dollars based on daily student attendance, but charter school do not receive local property tax dollars.

It’s why Harmony, the largest charter school system in the state, supports the proposed bills along with IDEA Public Schools, KIPP Public Schools, Not Your Ordinary School (NYOS) and Wayside Schools.

“It would free up more resources for us to be able to focus on increasing teacher salary, enhancing the curriculum that we offer to our students, diversifying programs in different opportunities that don’t necessarily exist for those kids right now,” said Cox.

Those on the other side of the issue point out traditional public schools are also facing limited resources, and are essentially fighting for the same pot of money.

The Texas Charter Schools Association says last fall, parents from across the state began a letter writing campaign to their state legislators demanding more seats at public charter schools.

Parents, charter leaders, and advocates from local charter schools plan on gathering at the Capitol Tuesday, March 7.

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