• Chloe Latham Sikes, Ph.D. • IDRA Newsletter • May 2020 •
Three years ago, the Texas legislature passed Senate Bill 1882 to incentivize school districts to relinquish local control over campus operations, governance and budgets to an external partner presumably to lead to school improvements. Eligible external operating partners include charters, private schools, private childcare providers, non-profit organizations and institutions of higher education.
School districts with even one campus that receives low accountability ratings must choose to either suffer state sanctions or relinquish local control to an outside entity.
Here is how it works: If a district has low school or district accountability ratings for two years (or three, if it already has an accountability turnaround plan), SB 1882 incentivizes it to forsake local control through a contract with an external operating partner. The policy offers the “carrot” of additional per-pupil funds and a two-year reprieve in accountability sanctions in order to avoid the “stick” of state-mandated school closure or takeover. The partnership stops the campus accountability clock and potentially provides additional money if the state’s charter school funding formula yields more than the particular school district’s formula.
Many community members and advocates have pushed back against the law, arguing that it invites privately-managed charter organizations to operate public schools… Charter management organizations hold 40% of the 77 campus partnership contracts across the 16 Texas school districts that currently have 1882 partnerships.
The amount of additional funding depends on the district’s tax rate and student population compared to the charter school funding level, based on a statewide flat rate. For instance, San Antonio Independent School District’s (ISD) per-pupil funding is below the state’s charter school per-pupil funding level, since charter schools receive funding based on the state average. Thus when P.F. Stewart Elementary School in San Antonio ISD entered into an SB 1882 contract in 2018, it received an $888 per student increase, from $9,479 per student based on district funding to $10,367 per student based on the state’s charter funding formula.
Tempted by the lure of additional funds, some schools opt for these partnerships even though they were not facing sanctions. Despite financial and accountability incentives, the implications of SB 1882 remain high stakes for schools and communities.
A Patchwork of Partnerships
SB 1882 creates a patchwork of private-public partnerships in districts with schools under different contracts with different operating partners. Research demonstrates that the success of private-public partnerships in schools depends on the nature of the agreement, the ensured level of public accountability (Horsford, et al., 2019) and the level of family engagement (Henderson, 2011; Preston, et al., 2012).
But the Texas law does not require SB 1882 partnerships to ensure specific levels of accountability and family engagement. Each partnership offers its own arrangement with schools based on the terms of the contract. For example, some exclusively provide early childhood education, while others focus on college preparation or special technology programs. This limited intervention can lead to a failure to identify – and can actually exacerbate – existing problems in a district.
Charter management organizations hold 40% of the 77 campus partnership contracts across the 16 Texas school districts that currently have SB 1882 partnerships (TEA, 2020). Several non-profit organizations also facilitate the transition of district schools to in-district charter schools, although the district retains oversight of the campus operations.
Many community members and advocates opposed the law, arguing that it invites privately-managed charter organizations to operate public schools. This major implication of SB 1882 has led to contentious school board hearings (Erickson, 2019; Malik & Torralva, 2020). For instance, in Dallas ISD, adamant community opposition compelled the district to back away from several proposed SB 1882 partnerships that would have transitioned some campuses to charter schools (Ayala, 2019; Erickson, 2019).
Implications of SB 1882
New rules from the Texas Education Agency, effective March 30, 2020, expand the commissioner of education’s authority in SB 1882 partner application decisions and change the application rules to grant even further control to the operating partners over public school campuses. The original law and new rules have several implications:
- More charter organizations and private educational management organizations could enter into various SB 1882 partnerships with districts and control public school funds. New rules require that partners have governing boards independent of the school district’s board and maintain full control of the school campus budgets.
- Challenges to transparency and public oversight will grow because of the variety of partnerships and contract arrangements over operations, governance and funding of SB 1882-contracted campuses.
- Funding inequities within districts will arise between charter-managed and district-managed schools since SB 1882-contracted campuses receive the greater of charter or district-level funds. Charter schools on average receive greater funds than districts entering into these partnerships based on a flat statewide rate instead of specific district rates. Also, changes made during partnerships with the benefit of additional funds will be hard to sustain, especially during likely COVID-19-induced cuts.
- School districts could enter into more multi-year district contracts with private partners even without supporting evidence of academic improvements.
IDRA believes that public funds for public schools should stay publicly accountable. While the full implications of SB 1882 partnerships remain to be seen, it is clear that the policy has opened the door for public schools to be privately-managed. Several local and systemic changes can be made:
- Districts can adopt community-based approaches that evidence shows support school improvements, such as community schools.
- TEA can offer supports to districts with turnaround plans instead of sanctions.
- The state can replace the A-F accountability system in favor of opportunity-to-learn metrics that identify areas for support instead of punishment in a school district. Removing the stick of state sanctions can encourage districts to engage in longer-term, sustainable community partnerships and family engagement rather than enter into consequential outside contracts.
IDRA is available to provide technical assistance and strategies for districts and communities to develop equitable plans for school improvement.
Ayala, E. (December 7, 2019). “Unexpected side effect of Texas school finance overhaul has Dallas schools nixing controversial charter partnership,” Dallas Morning News.
Erickson, B. (October 16, 2019). “After social media uproar, Dallas ISD backs off more SB 1882 partnerships,” People Newspapers.
Henderson, A. (2011). Family-School-Community Partnerships 2.0: Collaborative Strategies to Advance Student Learning. Washington, D.C.: National Education Association.
Horsford, S.D., Scott, J.T., & Anderson, G.L. (2019). The Politics of Education Policy in an Era of Inequality: Possibilities for Democratic Schooling. Routledge.
IDRA. (2020). Another Zero-Tolerance Failure – State Takeovers of School Districts Don’t Work. San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association.
IDRA. “School Strategies for Family Engagement,” Chapter 4 of the IDRA EAC-South Family Engagement Web-based Technical Assistance Package. San Antonio, Texas: Intercultural Development Research Association.
Malik, A., & Torralva, K. (February 17, 2020). “Rule changes might affect school partnerships in San Antonio,” San Antonio Express-News.
Preston, C., Goldring, E., Berends, M., & Cannata, M. (2012). “School innovation in district context: Comparing traditional public schools and charter schools,” Economics of Education Review, 31(2), 318-330.
Raise Your Hand Texas. (2019). District Partnerships Interactive Map.
TEA. (2020). Texas Partnerships (SB 1882). Austin, Texas: Texas Education Agency.
[©2020, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the May 2020 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]