Charter schools differ from public schools in many ways and parents are often confused about them in general and specifically regarding serving children with disabilities. The purpose of Texas charter schools is to: (1) improve student learning; (2) increase the choice of learning opportunities within the public school system; (3) create professional opportunities that will attract new teachers to the public school system; (4) establish a new form of accountability for public schools; and (5) encourage different and innovative learning methods.
In Texas, there are four types of charter schools:
- Subchapter B Home-rule School District Charters – There are no home-rule school district charters in Texas.
- Subchapter C Campus or Campus Program Charters – Independent school districts authorize and oversee these charters.
- Subchapter D Open-enrollment Charters – Most charters in Texas fall under this category. The commissioner authorizes these charters. Before SB 2 passed in 2013, the State Board of Education (SBOE) was the authorizer.
- Subchapter E University or Junior College Charters – The commissioner authorizes Subchapter E charters. Eligible entities include public colleges and universities.
Charter schools are subject to the curriculum requirements that school districts must follow. They must also implement reading diagnosis, accelerated reading instruction and dyslexia programs required of public schools and follow the state graduation standards. Students must be assessed by the state assessment test in the same grades and subjects as they would in a public school. The development of a gifted and talented education program is optional for charter schools.
Charter schools must serve special education students just as they would be served in a public school district. This includes the provision of special education and related services and Section 504 plans. Federal and state regulations must be followed and implemented so that all eligible students with disabilities at the charter school receive a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the least restrictive environment (LRE). This includes the responsibility for Child Find activities and comprehensive evaluations. An ARD/IEP committee is responsible for determining appropriate accommodations and supports for the student and teachers, a behavior intervention plan, and positive behavior support if appropriate.
Charter schools do not have taxing authority and thus generate no property taxes. While they receive some federal funds through the Texas Education Agency (TEA), the primary source of funding for charter schools is from state funds. Formulas have been developed to determine the amount of funds that charter schools will earn based on attendance and other factors. Charter schools are not required to provide 180 days of instruction or a 7 hour school day as public schools are.
The TEA Charter Schools webpage ( http://tea.texas.gov/Texas_Schools/Charter_Schools/) has the information shown above and much more. We have included a selection of TEA’s charter school FAQs below; we hope they will help you to understand more about charter schools:
Are charter schools permitted to charge tuition and fees?
An open-enrollment charter school may not charge tuition (except for certain pre-kindergarten classes). A charter school may only charge the same fees that a traditional public school may charge. Texas Education Code (TEC) §11.158(a) lists allowable fees.
Must a charter accept any student?
As a general rule, charter schools are open enrollment and must accept any student who applies. There are exceptions though. A charter is only allowed to serve students in the grades in its approved charter. The school may also only accept students who live in the charter’s approved geographic boundary. A charter also will have a cap on the total number of students it may serve.
Are charter schools required to provide meals or transportation to students?
The charter must provide meals if 10% of the students qualify for free or reduced breakfast. TEC §33.901 requires the school provide a breakfast program for qualified students.
A charter school does not have to provide transportation for students unless it is a condition in a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).
What are the requirements for student/teacher ratio and class size for charter schools?
Charter schools are not subject to TEC Sections 25.111 and 25.112 that state such guidelines for districts. Instead, the charter for the school sets any student-teacher ratios or class size limitations.
Are the teachers at open-enrollment charter schools required to be certified?
It depends. Teachers at an open-enrollment charter school must have at least a baccalaureate degree unless they are a special education or bilingual education/ESL teacher. These teachers must also have state certification. The governing body of a charter holder may set the qualifications for teachers at a standard above what state law requires.
Is a charter school required to have a full-time school nurse?
No. Charter schools are not required to hire a school nurse. If a charter school does hire a nurse, that person is not required to be a full-time employee or to be full time at any one location. If a charter school wanted to hire only one person as a nurse, that person must be an RN because an LVN is not allowed to work without supervision.
For more information, please visit TEA’s Charter School FAQ webpage at http://tea.texas.gov/Texas_Schools/Charter_Schools/FAQs/Charter_Schools_-_FAQs/