Districts plan to use new state law to turnaround struggling schools

In Texas public policy, finding the right mix of incentives, flexibility, and accountability for results is sometimes an impossible task. Fortunately, it can be done. Last regular session’s Senate Bill 1882, authored by Senators Menéndez and Bettencourt, incentivizes school districts to partner campuses with outside organizations to improve student learning outcomes. The partnerships can be made with non-profit organizations, colleges or universities, and public charter schools.

Enacted last year, a few districts are striking while the iron is hot to take advantage of the new opportunities. In an effort to turnaround schools, they are utilizing one provision of the law that pauses state sanctions on chronically underperforming campuses for two years. Though this is not the only type of campus eligible for partnerships, we are thrilled to see districts getting creative so quickly.


Policy in practice

At least seven districts have expressed interest in the new model. Both El Paso ISD and Fort Worth ISD superintendents have said they look forward to exploring partnerships with existing charter management organizations, though no plans have been proposed. The remaining five districts are in various stages of the process:

  • Dallas ISD: While the plan was eventually scrapped, DISD’s superintendent, Dr. Michael Hinojosa, proposed bringing in local non-profits and universities to turnaround a few of the district’s schools at risk of closure. Up against the clock, the district opted to change course and either close or consolidate those schools in the upcoming school year.
  • Houston ISD: Taking a slightly different approach, Houston ISD’s superintendent, Dr. Richard Carranza, has proposed one of two paths for its 15 lowest-performing campuses. In a plan to be laid out next week, each campus would either partner with a higher education institution or non-profit or undergo a campus “restart” wherein campuses would close and immediately reopen with new staff and programming.
  • Austin ISD: While both of those larger districts’ leaders have submitted proposals with wide reach, Austin ISD’s leaders are looking to wade into partnership waters slowly. Targeting only one campus, the district is currently accepting proposals from higher education institutions, non-profits, and open-enrollment charter schools to take over management of Mendez Middle School. The district plans to select the right fit and submit a proposal to the Texas Education Agency by March 1.
  • Waco ISD: Waco’s superintendent and school board have made quick work of their plan to partner with local non-profit Prosper Waco. The organization’s unique position bringing together 700 other non-profits to coordinate efforts promises to provide innovative new ways of bringing outside expertise and resources to partnership schools. The district plans to grant an in-district charter to Prosper Waco for any school in the district at risk of closure. As of now, there are currently five schools that fit the bill.
  • San Antonio ISD: In a unique move, San Antonio ISD’s board recently approved a plan to partner one of its struggling elementary campuses with Democracy Prep. A charter school from New York, the organization has an impressive track record of success with traditionally underserved populations. In a district with 20 existing in-district charter schools, this will be the second operated by an outside charter school. The partnership school, Stewart Elementary, will begin the 2018-2019 school year under the management of Democracy Prep.

As challenges persist in Texas public schools, districts will have to try new ways to tackle them. We look forward to the possibilities offered by innovative state policies like SB 1882, and we can’t wait to see the impact these new partnerships have on student outcomes.

We believe every Texas child, regardless of race, ethnicity or zip code, deserves a quality education. You can help make that happen.