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Charter schools gain seats in Texas

Houston Chronicle
February 12, 2015

By Jennifer Radcliffe

Despite a state-mandated cap on new campuses, more than 42,000 additional students enrolled in Texas charter schools this academic year.

That growth puts Texas near the top with roughly 280,000 charter school students, according to a report released this week by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Only California has more charter students — about 547,800 — and Florida is close behind with an estimated 275,000, according to the data. Nationally, charter school enrollment is nearing 3 million, the report shows.

Texas’ growth came largely through expansions at charter chains, such as Harmony Science and IDEA. Existing schools added 54 new sites across the Lone Star state, including 12 in San Antonio, which saw the largest concentration. Two new start-ups were approved last year and five more were just given the green light last fall.

Existing charters with strong performance are allowed to expand, but the State Board of Education must approve any new operators under the restrictions of a cap. This year, Texas is allowing 225 charters. Beginning Sept. 1, that will increase to 240. It will reach 305 by September 2019.

Texas also had one of the highest number of closures with 28 campuses shutting last year, according to the data.

“The right schools are replicating,” said Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. “We count the opening rates, but weeding out the bad apples is also just as important.”

Overall, about 5 million students attend public schools in Texas, giving charters about a 5.5 percent share. Texas’ charter school enrollment has more than doubled since the national group began the report in 2009-10.

Charters, which have been operating in Texas for two decades, are public schools and cannot charge tuition.