Bills being considered in the Texas Legislature’s special session may put a roof over the heads of more public charter school students.

This week, I visited my kids’ public charter school, Great Hearts Monte Vista South, for a meeting with the special education coordinator to talk about standardized testing and preparing my son for fifth grade. She mentioned that the fifth-grade classrooms were moving down the hall, swapping with the first-grade classrooms. It’s a trade-off, deciding who gets the larger classrooms: fifth-grade students have longer arms and legs (my son, F.T., is only 10 years old but already 5-foot-3), but the first graders are always in motion.

The problem is that the classrooms are just too small. The school is using rented space in a historic Jewish temple. It’s a beautiful building, and the landlords are gracious hosts, but the school has to make compromises every day. Storage space is nonexistent. Evening events need to be coordinated with the temple. There are thousands of prospective students on the waiting list, but no room for them in the building.

What would help? If the state Legislature allocated facilities funding to public charter schools, then Great Hearts Monte Vista South would be in a better position to look for a permanent campus and to open additional campuses. If high-performing public charter schools like Great Hearts, BASIS, KIPP, and IDEA can expand more quickly, they will be able to serve more students and more quickly boost the college-educated workforce in San Antonio. Recent data shows that public charter schools are working to get kids into college and to prepare them to graduate.

The legislature is the key to thousands of students getting roofs over their heads. The current situation in Texas is that independent school districts (ISDs) get facilities funding and public charter schools do not. Charter schools facilities funding was part of a school finance bill (House Bill 21) that failed at the last minute in the regular session.

Charter schools benefited in many ways during the 85th regular legislative session, but parents like me were disappointed about the outcome on facilities funding. But we may get a second chance in the special session.

Parents are watching several bills, particularly the companion bills for special-needs students, Senate Bill 2 and HB 253, and a school finance bill, HB 21.

San Antonio area charter school parents at the state capitol on April 26, 2017. Credit: Courtesy / Inga Cotton

Both SB 2 and HB 253 would provide tax-credit scholarships for special-needs students; the funds could be used for special-education programs at private schools.

The private school choice provisions are grabbing headlines, but the bills also provide millions of dollars in facilities funding for public schools – both traditional public schools and public charter schools. The Senate has already approved SB 2. Now, it’s up to the House to move on HB 253, which may happen in a matter of days.

In the House, HB 21 is a school finance bill with a cornucopia of provisions, including facilities funding for public charter schools. The bill made it out of the Public Education Committee and is now ready to be considered by the full House.

Parents of public school students, what can you do to help put a roof over more students’ heads? San Antonio is the hometown of two influential legislators, Rep. Diego Bernal (D-San Antonio), vice chair of the House Public Education Committee, and House Speaker Joe Straus (R-San Antonio). Now is the time to speak up.

This flyer describes the impacts of House Bill 21. Click to enlarge. Credit: Courtesy / Texas Association of School Administrators

Inga Cotton

Inga Cotton is a parent activist and blogs at San Antonio Charter Moms about school choice and local educational activities for families. She has two children. Read her blog at www.sachartermoms.com.

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