AUSTIN — The Texas State Board of Education (SBOE) voted to authorize the establishment of several charter schools on Friday, increasing options for parents and students in some parts of the state.
As previously reported by The Dallas Express, Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath recommended five charter applicants to the board members, who have the ability to veto applications.
The first application, which belonged to Celebrate Dyslexia School (San Antonio), was passed overwhelmingly, with only Board Member Melissa Ortega (D-El Paso) voting against the charter. The school will specifically service students struggling with dyslexia.
Heritage Classical Academy (Houston) passed over the objections of Board Member Marisa Perez-Diaz (D-San Antonio), who expressed worry over the fact that the school was on its fourth application attempt and still had several contract contingencies it needed to meet.
NexGen Innovation Academy (Houston) also won SBOE’s approval. However, board members decided to veto Village Speech and Debate Academy’s (Fort Worth) application by a considerable margin.
During a discussion over UP Excellence Academy in Houston, Board Member Perez-Diaz suggested the school was being targeted with additional contract contingencies because it was in the predominately black area of the city’s Fifth Ward.
Board Member Tom Maynard (R-Florence) spoke against the insinuation, stating, “When you work in education, you have to have a sense of urgency when every year passes, the student doesn’t get that year back … This is not a black, or white, or brown issue, this is about socioeconomic issues … the way you address that is that you empower those kids.”
“These kids in the Fifth Ward, they need that,” he continued. Maynard remarked that the leaders of the school were from the area, saying, “The DNA of that community is in this school.”
“I think we need to support this school and support this effort,” he said. “I think we have an opportunity to provide these students and parents a chance and provide them some hope.”
Board Member Aaron Kinsey (R-Midland) explained that he had been on the fence earlier in the week but that the assurance of additional contract contingencies resolved his apprehension.
“My personal belief is that when you teach people how to succeed in the economy, that is the way you succeed in society,” he said, highlighting the school’s entrepreneurial focus.
“I think we have a great opportunity here to create new pathways for people,” Kinsey added.
Board Member Evelyn Brooks (R-Frisco) echoed Maynard’s remarks on student opportunity but suggested that the solutions ought to occur in traditional public schools rather than charters.
Similarly, Board Member Aicha Davis (D-Dallas) ardently opposed UP Excellence Academy’s application. She claimed that the Fifth Ward area was “saturated” with schools and that “parental interest is not there.” Furthermore, she claimed that “91% of the schools in that area are [rated] an A or a B.”
“Continuously dumping more and more and more schools into that area is not working,” she continued. “It’s not a solution to anything.”
Davis’ assertions were vigorously countered by Board Member Staci Childs (D-Houston), who is familiar with the area and serves as a public defender for many people who came through the school system in that part of the city.
“Bringing UP Excellence is not a slight to those schools,” she said, noting that it would help restore an area that “used to be a place where businesses and community were thriving.”
Regarding the claim that parental interest in more school choices was not there, Childs pointed to the people who came to Austin to support the charter’s application.
“This is not about being a Republican or a Democrat, it’s about what’s good for kids,” Childs said, explaining her support for the school. “People are excited and ready for this and I hope your votes reflect this.”
Board Member Will Hickman (R-Houston) moved to close the debate and call the question. A veto vote was held and failed 9-4. A vote to take no action was then held, which passed 9-4, granting UP Excellence Academy authorization to begin operations.