Education
2:40 pm
Wed February 19, 2014

Some Texas Charter Schools Push Their Appeals As State Pursues Closure

Six Texas charter schools are slated to be closed by the Texas Education Agency this summer. One in Farmers Branch and another in Austin are making a lot of noise, saying they’re being denied their legal rights.

The six charter schools were warned in December they weren’t meeting academic or financial standards. John Dodd heads up Honors Academy in Farmers Branch and says the Texas Education Agency has it wrong. And his parents are mad.

“The commissioner is being referred to by some of our parents as being a bully and should be sent to the principal’s office,” says Dodd, who stands with them.  

He says Honors Academy has good schools and sound finances, despite the state’s accusations. Parc Smith, CEO of Austin’s American YouthWorks, echoes Dodd’s comments.

“We’re exasperated by them using a flawed spread sheet to replace good common sense,” Smith said.

His school teaches students who failed to finish high school. It’s their second chance at graduation, and the campus has always passed academic muster. It’s been cited for financial problems, even though Smith says it has a $3.5 million endowment and runs in the black.

Smith cites one specific example of the school using teachers who also train students for jobs. Some teach construction and math. That helps students pass tests and get jobs. But Smith says the TEA counts that dual role as a negative.

“Those job site trainers have direct contact with students but they count against us, even though the TEA doesn’t pay for any of those resources," Smith says.

Smith doesn’t get it. Nor does his chairman of the board, who runs Austin Community College. And neither does John Dodd.

"Due process hasn’t taken place," Dodd said. "We need to get into the real courts, where real judges and real juries and real people have an opportunity to make those kinds of decisions.”   

But winning on appeal will be a pretty high hurdle, according to TEA spokesperson Debbie Ratcliffe.

“Because the decision by law is based on academic and financial ratings and every time those ratings are issued, a school can appeal every time,” Ratcliffe said. “They’ve had multiple opportunities to appeal the data. They can’t just sit there for four or five years and do nothing and now try to say it was wrong. It’s late in the process.”

Both school leaders say they have appealed. Now they’re putting their faith in the next hearing. Each faces an administrative law judge on different dates in April.