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Texas Lawmaker Seeks Charter School Reform

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AUSTIN (AP) - The new head of the Texas Senate’s education committee said it’s too difficult for the state to close down poorly performing charter schools, but more charter schools should be allowed to open.

In the 1990s, state lawmakers passed legislation to allow private, nonprofit groups to operate public schools that are under the supervision of the state instead of local school districts.

State Sen. Dan Patrick, a Houston Republican who has backed charter schools as part of a broader push for alternatives to conventional public schooling, said he wants to overhaul the current system because he thinks it’s too difficult to close underperforming schools and the charter school limit should be increased by 20 per year. The law currently allows 215 charter schools to operate in Texas.

“Back in the ’90s, the Legislature didn’t get it right. We need to get it right,” Patrick, the new chairman of the Senate Education Committee, told the Austin American-Statesman.

“What we need is a new way of approaching authorization, follow-up and closure,” he said. “We cannot allow for schools that are unacceptable, whether they are traditional public or charter public, to operate for years and years. And that’s the situation we’re in right now.”

He said the specifics were still being ironed out.

According to the state Sunset Review Commission, charter schools feature disproportionately among the state’s best and worst schools. In 2011, 8.5 percent of the charter schools earned the state’s top academic accountability rating, compared to 4.4 percent of the conventional public schools.

However, 17.6 percent of the charter schools earned the lowest rating of “unacceptable,” compared to the 4.9 percent of the conventional public schools. Also, the commission reported that 71 percent of the schools facing sanctions for falling short of academic or financial standards were charter schools.

Charter school industry leaders believe the state is sufficiently equipped to oversee schools but has not used its power appropriately, said David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association. However, he agrees that clarification of legal ambiguities to ease enforcement would be appropriate.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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