By Mike Feinberg, Sehba Ali, and Jason Bernal from the Houston Chronicle on December 14, 2012.
It has been a challenging couple of years for public education in Texas. The cuts to the state’s PreK-12 education system have eliminated key sources of support for getting students college- and career-ready.
But money alone does not ensure that public schools will deliver results. While public education spending has nearly doubled in the past 20 years, student achievement has remained relatively flat. To really make change possible, funding must be combined with innovative approaches, visionary leadership and policy support.
As the leaders of KIPP and YES Prep public charter schools, we have dedicated our careers to improving educational outcomes for children from low-income backgrounds. Our schools have a six-year college completion rate that is more than four times the rate for low-income students nationwide, and even exceeds the national average for all Americans. Achieving these results requires a commitment to doing whatever it takes – not just from educators, but from elected officials as well.
As the Legislature takes a fresh look at how we educate children in Texas, we have four recommendations:
Restore education funding for all public schools. In this challenging economic climate, we have to choose wisely where we spend our public dollars. Public education has to be at the top of our priority list – our schools cannot produce results without resources. Yet for the past two years, district and charter schools alike have struggled to provide a high level of instruction on a very thin shoestring. Restoring our lost funding would go a long way towards getting Texas schools and students on track to excellence.
Hold low-performing schools accountable for their results. When low-performing schools are the status quo, our entire education system suffers. This is especially true for public charter schools, where “freedom in exchange for accountability” is the rallying cry. This month, the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) announced a campaign to crack down on underperforming charter schools. Texas must also embrace accountability, by closing low-performing charter schools and helping struggling district schools restructure and innovate.
Level the financial playing field between districts and charter schools. When it comes to state funding, district schools have an advantage over charters. According to a new report by the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, KIPP and YES Prep receive several hundred dollars less in public revenue per student than the Houston Independent School District. But even though KIPP and YES Prep get no facilities funding from the state, and have to raise about $600 per pupil from private sources, we are still spending less per pupil overall than the district while our schools grow to full enrollment. It is vital that the state correct these imbalances, making sure that all public schools are on the same financial footing.
Promote resource sharing among district and charter schools. In Texas, charter schools struggle with the cost of building, leasing or purchasing school facilities. Meanwhile, many districts are saddled with vacant or underused buildings. Recently, educators have found ways to bring the two together. For example, the SKY partnership between the Spring Branch Independent School District, KIPP and YES Prep allows the three organizations to share district buildings and school resources; KIPP and YES Prep students participate in Spring Branch’s extracurricular programs, and Spring Branch administrators and teachers attend our professional development conferences. The state Legislature is ideally positioned to promote this kind of collaboration all over the state, in areas where it is needed the most.
When the new legislative session begins, Texas’ elected officials will have to choose whether to invest in a better future for public school students across the state. We hope they will choose wisely.
Feinberg is co-founder of KIPP, Ali is superintendent of KIPP Houston and Bernal is president of YES Prep.