By Lindsay Kastner
A revised version of a bill to change the Texas charter school system advanced out of the state's Senate Education Committee on Tuesday.
The panel voted 7-0 to send forward Senate Bill 2, authored by the committee's chairman, Sen. Dan Patrick.
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, and Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, abstained from the vote, saying they were not part of the conversation surrounding some changes to the bill.
Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run schools. Patrick, R-Houston, altered several aspects of his bill in an effort to arrive at a version that could pass both the House and Senate.
“It's still the most ambitious effort to strengthen the charter school law in Texas since the charter school law was passed in 1995,” David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association, said after the vote.
In the most recent round of changes, Patrick struck a provision that would have created a new state commission to approve and regulate charters.
Currently, the State Board of Education has that function and the bill now would put it in the hands of the state's education commissioner.
Patrick said the bill would also make it easier to close poor performing charter schools. Charter critics frequently argue that the state should make charters tougher to obtain and easier to shut down.
“It's a lot fewer than some people act like, but there are some charters that haven't been meeting the needs of kids,” Dunn said. “If charters aren't meeting the need then we do need to move to closure.”
The original version of the bill also would have eliminated the state's cap on the number of charters that can be granted at any one time, now set at 215.
Instead, the revised bill would allow a set number of additional charters each year and include certain exceptions for high-performing, out-of-state charter organizations, dropout recovery charter schools and those that cater to children with special needs.
“If I were to sum up what we really are trying to do in this charter bill, it's to close down bad charters and create high quality charters,” Patrick told committee members Tuesday. “At the end of the day, if we accomplish that, the cap won't matter. Nothing else will matter because we will have served our students.”