In 1995, Texas authorized the creation of public charter schools. Open-enrollment charters and district charters exist within the public school system and are taxpayer-funded entities regulated by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

Open-Enrollment Charter Authorization and Oversight

The commissioner of education may grant a charter for an open-enrollment charter school to these types of eligible entities:

  • public, private, or independent institution of higher education
  • 501(c)(3) organization
  • governmental entity

Beginning September 1, 2019, the total number of charters that may be granted in Texas is 305, increasing gradually from the current cap of 215. There is no limit to the number of charter campuses that can be approved under a granted charter. An unlimited number of charters can be granted to institutions of higher education, including junior or community colleges and dropout recovery schools or detention, correctional or residential facilities established for juvenile offenders.

The initial term of a charter is five years. The commissioner has authority over monitoring and revoking charters. Because charter schools operate with state tax dollars, they are required to participate in the state’s accountability system.

District Charters

Unlike open-enrollment charters that are authorized by the state, district charters (also referred to as campus charters or campus program charters in the Texas Education Code) are authorized by local school districts, which are in turn held accountable for student performance on the campuses. The schools can be staffed either by district staff or under contract with another entity, such as an open-enrollment charter operator.

According to the Texas Education Agency, there were 75 campuses operating under a district charter in 2015-2016, clustered into 16 school districts. Unlike open-enrollment charter schools that receive funding directly from the state, these schools receive funding through the school district that authorized them.

Like open-enrollment charter campuses, district charters are exempt from many of the statutory restrictions required for traditional public schools. Additionally, district charters may be created to target a specific student population, such as dropout recovery, or offer a unique choice option to parents and students, such as a Montessori or early college high school.

As of the 2014-15 school year, 588 open-enrollment charter campuses run by 195 charter holders operated in Texas, with an enrollment of 202,972 students. With regard to student performance, 76.5 percent of these campuses received a Met Standard rating, compared with 87.2 percent of traditional public school campuses for the 2014-15 school year.

Stronger Charter Accountability Through Senate Bill 2 (2013)

Although there are many high-performing charters in Texas serving students well, prior to 2013 there was urgent need to reform the authorization and revocation process for charters, namely because in the early years of charters, many Texas charter schools were authorized and allowed to continue operation after repeated years of poor academic performance and/or fiscal irresponsibility.

The 83rd Texas Legislature passed Senate Bill 2, a compromise bill expanding the cap on the number of charters authorized to operate in Texas, while at the same time tightening oversight of and intervention with low-performing charters and the charter authorization process. SB 2 requires the commissioner of education to revoke a charter after three years of failure to meet minimum accountability ratings.

Since the law was put in place, 17 charters have been revoked, and the process to authorize new charters has been strengthened.

Because open-enrollment charter leaders are not elected (they appoint themselves), state accountability for this type of public school is critical. As carefully negotiated in SB 2, the oversight of low-performing open-enrollment charter schools must remain with the commissioner of education instead of outside groups, such as charter management organizations (CMO), which may not be responsive to the unique needs of local communities.

Raise Your Hand has been a consistent supporter of high-performing charter schools and a consistent critic of low-performing ones. In a system educating more than 5 million+ public school students, there must always be room for flexibility and innovation, as long as students are well-served and there is accountability in a transparent system regarding the use of public dollars.