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Charter Schools Struggling As GOP Pushes for Vouchers

During the regular and special legislative sessions of the Texas legislature, proponents of school vouchers held expanding school funding hostage. Vouchers failed to pass, and now the bill is coming due, particularly at charter schools.

Charter schools in Texas are independently run, but still funded by state money. This enables them to both specialize in certain educational areas while still being free to attend. The downside is that they are caught in the same budget crunches that are affecting regular public schools.

Austin Achieve Public Schools announced on Tuesday that it would be cutting 24 employees amid budget shortfalls. Spokespeople from the district said they had explored every other avenue of cost-cutting, but ultimately had to let employees go. According to Austin Achieve, their funding had been stagnant since 2019. The loss of staff leads to greater burdens on those remaining, including a higher student-to-teacher ratio.

They are not the first. Several Houston-area charter schools announced last year that they were facing tough cuts after the legislature failed to increase funding. KIPP Courage, part of the SKY Program from KIPP Texas Public Schools and the YES Prep Public Schools charter programs are scheduled to be cut entirely.

Parents have packed school board meetings trying to save the SKY Partnership with charter school programs, a cooperative agreement between Spring Branch ISD, KIPP, and YES Prep. The charter programs offer valuable college prep courses that have launched a number of students into good secondary education positions, but schools are increasingly unable to fund these services.

Public and charter schools are funded on a per-child basis. Currently, that allotment is $6,160 per child. Educators have repeatedly petitioned the legislature to raise it by $1,000 to meet rising costs.

Several bills promised to do so, but the matter was tied up in Governor Greg Abbott’s push for school vouchers. His misleadingly named “Education Savings Account” would allow families to use between $8,000 and $10,000 per semester per child of public money to send students to private, mostly urban and suburban religious schools.

Opponents, including rural Republicans in the Texas House, have repeatedly pointed out that the loss of children in public and charter schools will lead to small school budgets shrinking. Between the money spent on vouchers themselves (estimated to be $2 billion annually) and drop in attendance, public and charter schools were looking at significant shortfalls.

Senate Republicans continually tried to placate these fears with a variety of measures, including raising the allotment and large stipends for smaller school districts. When these failed to win over Democrats and rural House Republicans, most of the funding increases were left unsigned.

The only significant increase in school funding that was passed in 2023 was some money to be spent on gun safety. With the 2024 elections looming and the legislature not due back in session until 2025, public and charter schools are not likely to see monetary relief soon. The protracted fight over vouchers is costing them dearly. 

Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner
Jef Rouner is an award-winning freelance journalist, the author of The Rook Circle, and a member of The Black Math Experiment. He lives in Houston where he spends most of his time investigating corruption and strange happenings. Jef has written for Houston Press, Free Press Houston, and Houston Chronicle.

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