Testimony on Texas Open Enrollment Charter Schools

María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D.
Executive Director, Intercultural Development Research Association
Submitted to the Texas House of Representatives Interim Committee on Public Education
The Honorable Jim Dunnam, Chair
August 2000

Mr. Chairman, members of the committee, I am Dr. María Robledo Montecel and I represent the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA), a non-profit education research and training organization based in San Antonio. IDRA was created in 1973 to advocate improvement of educational opportunities for all children, and particularly those children too often ill-served by Texas public schools: those who are minority, low-income or limited English proficient.

In 1995, the Texas Legislature authorized the creation of a pilot program of 20 open enrollment charter schools. Charter schools were authorized to offer options for community-based groups that sought to create educational alternatives that might better serve small groups of children living in communities around the state. In that bill, Senate Bill 7, you approved the creation of three charter school options: home rule charter schools, campus or campus program charters, and open enrollment charter schools. I will limit my remarks to open enrollment charter schools, for it is this option that concerns IDRA greatly. What began as a small experiment limited to 20 open enrollment schools has grown to include authorization for up to 100 such schools and an unlimited number of open enrollment charter schools serving primarily students identified as “at risk.” Seldom in the history of this state has a questionable concept moved so far and so quickly with little or no evidence of effectiveness.

In 1997, the legislature authorized the expansion of the open enrollment charter schools from the original 20 to 100. What justified this expansion? Certainly not any information on their effectiveness. Although the legislation called for an annual evaluation, by 1996 only 17 schools were in actual operation and most had little or no data on which to make conclusive judgements. According to that initial evaluation report, clients seemed to be generally “pleased” with the basic workings of these schools, but the absence of substantive student test data made it difficult to assess whether or not these alternatives were working. Compounding the evaluation was the fact that these schools operated under an alternative accountability system which made the collection of critical quantitative data impossible and the chances for a comprehensive, substantive and definitive evaluation impossible.

The second open enrollment charter school evaluation report,