Texas Charter School Reform Bill Under Lobby, Debate

Morgan Smith writes in Texas Weekly that notable political operatives are popping up in typically insular education committee meetings as lawmakers debate the terms of charter school legislation.

Most notable among those new faces has been Texans for Lawsuit Reform co-founder Dick Trabulsi, who is now lobbying for Texans For Education Reform, a newly formed advocacy organization headed by former Senate Education Chairwoman Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, and whose priorities aside from charter school policy also include teacher quality and virtual education initiatives. The group also keeps several other prominent Republican consultants — Anthony Holm, Mike Toomey and Jordan Berry — on payroll.

Texans for Education reform has been a major force in advancing Senate Education Chariman Dan Patrick's Senate Bill 2, however the education advocacy group Raise Your Hand Texas has been campaigning against provisions that they believe will threaten the well-being of traditional schools which serve the majority of the state's student population.

Raise Your Hand Texas has become an advocacy heavyweight since its foundation in 2006 by Charles Butt, and the group employs high powered lobbyists. They have already achieved significant transformation of the Houston Republican's bill.

While Patrick's bill originally intended to remove the state's cap on charter contracts, the legislation will now raise the cap from 215 to 305 incrementally with the maximum 305 only reached in 2019. The requirement for school districts to lease or sell underused building for charter school use has also been dropped as has a provision to provide facility funding for charter schools.

Even though the bill has been trimmed by Raise Your Hand Texas, it would still represent the largest school choice reform passed by the Legislature in almost 20 years. There was a similar attempt at reform in 2011 but the current bill is thought to have a much better chance of success than the previous failed prospect.

The bill's lone remaining dissenter on the Senate floor is Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) who issued a statement claiming that he could not support the expansion of charters until the issues of inequitable funding in traditional public schools and overregulation were properly dealt with.

During a recent House Public Education Committee meeting, Chairman Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, told members he intended to move quickly with the bill, indicating they would take a vote on it during Tuesday's meeting. Questions about the legislation's transfer of approval authority from the State Board of Education to the Texas Education Agency dominated the hearing, which also included an unusual appearance by Republican Party of Texas Chairman Steve Munisteri in support of the legislation.

05 1, 2013
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