Charter School Testimony Moves Texas Lawmakers to Tears

Although the testimony of charter school students moved state senator Dan Patrick to tears, he agreed to shelve a proposal to lift the limit on charter schools in Texas in favor of one that raises the number more gradually.

After listening to stories of kids who were set on the right academic path thanks to charter schools — who were there to testify in support of the unlimited charter schools — Patrick reiterated his commitment to bringing expanded school choice to the state.

The bill in question was submitted by Senator Leticia Van De Putte, and would have modified the accountability system used by public schools to more specifically identify those that served at-risk youth, especially those who had been dropouts and were least likely to graduate.

Van De Putte said that without such designations, schools that catered to former dropouts might show completion rates that were too low and therefore risk closure.

Bertha Vasquez, an 18-year-old former dropout in Austin who returned to school is now set to graduate this year and hopes to become a nurse. She cried as she detailed being raised by a single mother.

“I want to be the reason that she can smile every day, even though I made her go through a lot,” Vasquez said.
Patrick instructed a committee clerk to hand her a box of tissues — then said he needed them back as tears ran down his own face.

After the conclusion of the testimony, Patrick acknowledged that the session had brought to the surface emotions not only in him but in other members of the committee who he said were all supportive of school choice in Texas. He added that the stories told during the day were a reminder that beyond political infighting there were real people depending on the decisions the legislators make every day.

Patrick supports two charter school proposals, including one that would do away with the cap of 215 currently in place in the state along with creating a special body charged with reviewing and approving the new applications. The other proposal is a fairly classical voucher program that would offer tax credits to companies that donate towards scholarships that can be used towards tuition for private schools of the family’s choice.

During the hearing, though, Patrick also modified his charter proposal to call for 10 new charter licenses issued next school year and 20 new ones given out in 2014-2015, as well as 35 in the 2015-2016 academic year and beyond. He said he still supports an unlimited number of new charters, but understands that such a plan could be opposed by some in the Legislature.

Patrick also altered his bill to give the state the authority to issue five new charter licenses for every one that is revoked from an existing school because of poor performance. The Texas Education Agency says authorities only close about three charters in a typical year.