If Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick thinks school districts have too many unused buildings – and apparently he does – he should look in the mirror. Some new buildings, particularly in fast-growth districts are empty because school districts couldn’t afford to staff and open them after Patrick and his colleagues in the legislative majority cut $5.4 billion from public school budgets two years ago.
In his new leadership position – and with $20 billion in surplus and Rainy Day money for lawmakers to work with – Patrick should be leading the charge to get the funding restored. But, no, he is talking about diverting even more money from public schools to a private school voucher program. And, with SB2, he would lift the cap on charter schools and require school districts to turn over unused buildings to private charter operators for an annual “rent” of $1.
Patrick would take public school buildings, constructed with local tax dollars approved by local voters, and give them to private companies operating charter schools with little or no local oversight.
Several charter school operators and other advocates, of course, testified for SB2 before the Senate Education Committee today. I watched part of the hearing and was struck by how one charter advocate missed the point when he suggested more charters could help Texas address the school dropout problem.
But dropouts aren’t lining up for charter schools. The relevant issue is preventing kids from dropping out in the first place. And, the best way to address that problem is for the state to focus its resources on traditional public schools, which is where the vast majority of children – both those who drop out and those who graduate — attend school. And, remember, the budget cuts for which Patrick voted included full-day, pre-kindergarten and other programs designed specifically to discourage kids from dropping out.
Various studies have shown that charters, on average, are no better or worse than traditional public schools. Some have been successful in Texas, but others have failed miserably – academically, financially or from poor management. This is not the time for the Legislature to give the charter industry a blank check on creating new charters while traditional public schools are still struggling from budget cuts.