AUSTIN — This week, Texas education officials heard plans for five proposed charter schools for the 2025-2026 school year.

The charter school discussion began at the State Board of Education (SBOE) meeting on Wednesday, where Education Commissioner Mike Morath, head of the Texas Education Agency (TEA), recommended the approval of five new open-enrollment charter schools.

TEA reviews hundreds of charter school applications before presenting the finalists to the SBOE.

“We have a strong accountability framework for charter schools. We want them to be innovative, but we want them to be good,” said Morath at Wednesday’s meeting. “Having a charter school isn’t a right; it’s a privilege.”

Morath said the TEA had approved only 13% of charter school applicants since 2016.

“Charter schools aim to expand the choices available to parents that want additional opportunities for our children,” TEA Deputy Associate Commissioner Marian Schutte said. “We hold a high bar for the proposals.”

As previously reported by The Dallas Express, charter schools and other alternatives to traditional public schools have been seeing significant enrollment growth as more families pull their kids out of their local school district, likely due to flagging academic outcomes and perceived politicization of curricula.

Some students have found themselves trapped in schools offering subpar academics. At Dallas ISD, for instance, the latest TEA accountability report shows that only 41% of students scored at grade level on their STAAR exams. Meanwhile, almost 20% of the district’s graduating Class of 2022 did not earn a diploma in four years. More recently, only 18% of Dallas ISD students this past spring met grade level in grade 5 science, and only 32% did so in grade 6 math.

Representatives from the five charter schools recommended for approval attended the SBOE meeting to discuss their plans for their future schools with board members.

Infinite Minds

The first charter school discussed was Infinite Minds in Arlington. Infinite Minds would be a K-6 school that hosts a daily “genius hour” where students can focus on a personal project tied to their individual academic goals.

“Imagine a world where every young learner can explore their passions and grow their skills,” said Infinite Minds founder Rachel King.

SBOE members expressed concerns that teachers may not be adequately prepared to support all students’ genius hour projects and that an hour a day devoted to personal projects would take too much time away from the core curriculum.

Pathway Academy

Pathway Academy would teach 7th-12th-grade students in Big Spring. The school focuses on economically disadvantaged students in a town with a high poverty rate. Its goal is to help at-risk students by giving them hands-on learning experiences through internships with its higher-education partner, Howard College.

Community members from Big Spring traveled to the board meeting to testify in support of the new school. SBOE members expressed support for Pathway Academy across the board.

The Texas Girls School

The Texas Girls School would be a 6th-12th-grade STEM school in Austin.

“We are a girls-focused STEM school designed to intentionally nurture girls’ interest in science and math and showcase role models and career paths in STEM,” proposed Superintendent Dana Browning told SBOE.

The school would host a speakers series every Friday where women in STEM would come speak to the students.

“We feel that all girls can be advanced in math; we just have to fill in the gaps and show them how to get there,” said Browning.

Some SBOE members expressed concern that a single-gender school may be discriminatory. Browning said that while the school is focused on girls, boys can attend if they wish.

Unparalleled Preparatory Academy

Unparalleled Preparatory Academy would serve students in grades 6-12 in Manor. The school focuses on hands-on experiences through career immersion programs in a wide range of fields, from technology to healthcare.

SBOE members voiced concern that the proposed school leaders may not have enough prior experience managing a school to take on the task of opening a charter.

Visionary STEM Academy

Visionary STEM Academy would be a public kindergarten through 8th-grade STEM school in Terrell. The school would teach advanced computer science and engineering courses and conduct STEM-related activities to prepare students for a future STEM career.

SBOE members liked the focus on STEM, especially as student math and science scores continue to decline across the state. However, they were concerned about the lack of emphasis on other subjects, such as history and language arts.

At the conclusion of Wednesday’s meeting, the board took an initial vote on whether each charter school should be approved. Infinite Minds and Visionary STEM Academy were vetoed, and Pathway Academy, The Texas Girls School, and Unparalleled Preparatory Academy were approved.

Following the Wednesday meeting, leaders from the proposed charter schools were given until Friday to meet with board members to adjust their school plans before SBOE met again Friday to oversee the school’s revisions and take a final vote on whether the schools should be approved.

After reviewing the changes to the schools’ strategy plans, the board voted to veto Visionary STEM Academy and approve Pathway Academy, The Texas Girls School, and Unparalleled Preparatory Academy. The board was split on Infinite Minds. The board must decide within 90 days, or Infinite Minds will be submitted for final approval.

The TEA ultimately has the final say over whether the proposed charter schools will be approved. If approval is granted, the charter schools will open for the 2025-2026 school year and will have an initial five-year term.