Recent developments in San Antonio’s education landscape and subsequent commentary have pitted traditional public schools against charter schools, citing erosion of Texas’ public school system and unions fearing competition, depending on who you ask.
Largely missing from those opinions is the underlying issue: Texas’ school finance system.
In a recent op-ed Lionel Sosa suggests that charter schools are under attack from teachers unions because the unions are afraid of competition. He is very much mistaken about the role of teachers “unions” in Texas when he suggests that, “every time they lose a teacher to a charter school, they lose teachers dues.”
Texas teachers do not belong to labor unions; rather, they may choose to join one of several professional organizations such as the Association of Texas Professional Educators, Texas Classroom Teachers Association, and Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. These organizations are open to charter school teachers as well.
The difference between a traditional union and a professional organization is that unions can negotiate contracts for compensation and benefits – professional organizations cannot. Unions can go on strike for unfair working conditions – professional organizations cannot. The benefits of joining a professional teaching organization in Texas are that they provide legal advice and they advocate for education.
The sticking point between traditional public schools and charter schools is not a fear of competition, but rather the inadequate way in which Texas schools are funded. San Antonio’s traditional public schools have been “competing” since 1852 when the all-boys, private Central Catholic High School opened.
The real controversy in the debate surrounding traditional versus charter schools is the “undeniably imperfect” funding system the Texas Legislature put in place. Texas’ teachers organizations are afraid of charter schools taking away money from already underfunded public schools because that ultimately takes money away from the majority of the state’s school children.
Sosa laments that charter schools receive less state funding than traditional public schools, “but are expected to do more with it.” In fact, charter schools may do less with the funding they receive:
- Charter schools are not required to provide transportation unless it is in a special education student’s needs;
- They also are not required to provide meals unless 10 percent of their students qualify for free or reduced breakfast;
- They do not have to employ certified teachers unless they teach special or bilingual education;
- They do not have to provide planning periods for their teachers, or even offer the same courses as traditional public schools;
- They are not required to hire a school nurse;
- Charter schools do not have to have a licensed school psychologist who can perform special education testing. If a child in a public charter needs special education testing, their zoned traditional public school is required to do it.
You simply cannot compare charters to traditional public schools when they aren’t held to the same standards. But, for those of you who want to try, data collected by the Texas Education Agency from 2007-2011 showed that charter schools in Texas served fewer students with disabilities, had lower attendance and higher dropout rates, spent a larger percentage of their budget on administrators, paid teachers less, and received more funding from the State than traditional public schools because they cannot levy a local tax rate.
Consider the following:
Northside ISD, the largest public school district in San Antonio, in 2017 had a budget of $1.3 billion for 106,066 students, which comes out to $12,256 per student.
Traditional public educators aren’t afraid of competition. We’re afraid we can’t be as excellent as we want to be without proper funding. We want to “boldly … transform” public education, and we struggle every day to do so with limited resources. You can’t squeeze blood from a turnip.