The 2017 Texas Charter Schools Association (TCSA) Conference took place in Grapevine at the Gaylord Texan Hotel from Oct. 11 – 13. Approximately 1,600 teachers, leaders and educators attended the conference.
Several sessions were held during the conference on charter school best practices, challenges and other topics. A large exhibit hall showcased many products and services and gave charter school representatives the opportunity to directly discuss products and services with vendors.
“This conference is the largest Charter schools conference in the state of Texas,” said David Dunn, executive director of TCSA.
Dunn is retiring this year after ten years as the association’s director and will be replaced by Chuck Cook, who was named Interim Director.
When Dunn started in 2008, there were 374 campuses with approximately 90,000 students. Now, there are more than 200,000 students on 600 charter school campuses.
“Eligible charter schools were granted annual charter school facility funding of $60 million, starting with the 2018-2019 school year,” said Mike Morath, Texas Commissioner of Education and formerly on the DISD Board of Directors.
Morath admits that the number one priority is closing the financial gap between charters and traditional schools.
“The funding can be used for facilities work and property taxes. This funding equates to approximately $182 per student. Currently, traditional public schools receive four times that amount per student.”
Eligible charter schools are those with a rating of grade C and higher in the new A-F rating system. That new system will be administered by the Texas Education Association.
“There are folks who are angry that $60 million has been allocated for charters,” said Dunn, referencing some groups supporting traditional public schools. “They will be sharpening their knives.” Two anti-charter school groups are the American Federation of Teachers and the Texas State Teachers Association.
Morath listed other top priorities for the future, including getting more kids to attend high-performance campuses, ensuring better informed parents making better educational decisions for students, and better tracking of progress for individual students, campuses as a whole and school year-over- year advancement.
“I see animosity between charters and regular schools and it doesn’t have to be that way,” Morath said. “Why not partner high performing charter school classes with traditional schools where that is the desire? It’s a wonderful world that I have pictured.”
The conference included the presentation of ‘Charter Champion’ awards, given to Jim Murphy (Texas House of Representatives, District 133) and Senator Larry Taylor (District 11), chair of the Texas Senate Education Committee, for their help with various bills supporting charter schools including the Facilities Funding Bill and a Minutes Bill.
“Focus for charter school teachers and educators should now be beyond operating smarter, but reimagining the art of the charter,” said conference keynote speaker, Dr. Christopher Emdin, professor of Science Education at Columbia University. “All need to be less concerned with the structure of the charter and more on the pedagogy of teaching.”
“Charter schools are completely 100 percent public schools, and charter school students take the same accountability standards as traditional ISDs, including STAAR testing”, said Christine Isett, director of Communications for TCSA. “Rules for charter schools are stricter in that they close after three years if not meeting standards for three years in a row.”
Overall, the conference stressed that for families who are looking for options in education, especially if ISDs are not meeting their needs, charter schools could offer a strong alternative. Charter schools provide one voice to handle many missions, including, but not limited to college preparatory, specialized mission (students at any grade level with a distinctive focus), dropout recovery, pre-kindergarten/elementary, and residential treatment / juvenile detention centers.
“Charter school residency requirement rules are that we don’t think you should have to go to a school that is not meeting your child’s needs simply by virtue of your zip code,” communications director Isett said. “Critics say that you should just apply for a transfer, but that does not always work. Currently there are approximately 141,000 children on waiting lists for charter schools in grades kindergarten through 12.”