AUSTIN — Two educator organizations in Texas are suing the Texas Education Agency and Commissioner Mike Morath over a law allowing districts to partner with nonprofits, charters or universities to improve low-performing schools.
Senate Bill 1882, passed in 2017, provides incentives for districts to enter into these partnerships. They can qualify for a potential increase in state funding for the partnered campus and can also be exempted from certain accountability interventions for two years.
The Texas State Teachers Association and Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers held a press conference at the State Capitol Thursday morning explaining their reasons for filing their lawsuit. The groups claim Morath set out new guidelines that directly conflict with the intent of the law and relax the number and type of charter programs that must abide by the law.
“Commissioner Morath violated provisions in Senate Bill 1882 that were designed to protect educational standards for children and essential employment rights for educations,” said Noel Candelaria of the Texas State Teachers Association.
The lawsuit cites a case from May of this year related to a charter partnership between San Antonio Independent School District and a nonprofit charter operator Democracy Prep Inc.
“According to the commissioner, the provisions in the statute and rules designed to protect the rights of teachers on the affected campus only apply to open-enrollment charter schools that may apply to run a campus under SB 1882 and not to other eligible entities,” the lawsuit states.
Louis Malfaro with Texas AFT said these guidelines are a direct threat to his organization’s members.
“If a teacher is working at a school that’s struggling and the school district decides to do something different, we want to make sure that teacher still has a right to a job and doesn’t get kicked to the curb,” he said.
Ken Zarifis, president of Education Austin, said SB 1882 had a good outcome for one of the schools within the Austin Independent School District.
Mendez Middle School is now operating as an in-district charter after the Texas STEM Coalition, Communities In Schools of Central Texas and UT Austin’s UTeach Institute teamed up to help run the campus.
“We talked with teachers and employees about what they wanted,” Zarifis said. “We went to all the community meetings. We met with teachers after the presentation about the two partners possible. We just really wanted to know what teachers really wanted.”
Supporters of SB 1882 say the lawsuit is nothing more than a veiled attack on charter schools.
“The commissioner’s rules really just provide additional clarity and guidance to districts as they start engaging in this important work, so those rules have been helpful to districts who’ve spent the last year planning, engaging with their communities and deciding what their communities need,” Molly Weiner, director of policy with Texas Aspires Foundation, said.