Charter school advocates hope school finance deal includes facility funding

NYOS Charter School (KXAN Photo)
NYOS Charter School (KXAN Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Time is running out for Texas lawmakers to reform school financing. The House and Senate both passed a version of House Bill 21 and a committee is working to hammer out a compromise before the special session ends Wednesday. One of the major sticking points is the Senate has $60 million for charter school buildings, the House does not.

NYOS Charter school has 1,000 students from Pre-K through 12th grade. They go to school all year round and have to walk in between four buildings that the school grew into.

“We’ve taken over an advertising agency, a bread bakery, and my personal favorite, transmission repair shop, in order to accommodate all of our students,” said NYOS Charter School executive director Kathleen Zimmerman. To keep up with growth, the school bought the property next door as well, hoping the state will help turn it into more classrooms and athletic facilities.

“Another is just space for specialized classes. So right now there is no space for music, for art, for science labs,” explained Zimmerman.

The state gives charters schools money for each child, but tax dollars have never been used to pay for buildings. This new idea calls for $60 million for charter facilities beginning next school year.

“They’ve got just under 1,000 kids but they got 2,000 kids additionally who want to come in and get their education at NYOS and they simply don’t have the capacity to grow to meet those kids needs,” said David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter School Association, who drew attention to the issue in a recent op-ed. 

But many like Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, say it’s not the best use of tax dollars because charter schools can go under.

“We’ve had to close down some charter schools recently. What happens when the state pays for those buildings but those buildings don’t technically belong to the state,” said Gonzalez.

What’s adding some stress to this entire process is the school finance bill is caught in negotiations between the House and the Senate on another bill which would limit the amount of property taxes a city or county could raise before residents could petition for a rollback election.

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