Marlin may go looking for charter-school leeway to help with low scores

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charter schools

After having its accreditation yanked for the second time in two years, the Marlin school district is considering turning to a new law that allows a public district to hand over some of its management to a charter school operator.

The intent isn’t to pacify the school-choice crowd, though – the move taps a provision in the new law that gives troubled schools that submit to charter management more time to turn themselves around.

“We don’t like calling it a charter, but we’re looking at doing what Hearne did, which would create a Marlin education foundation — a lot of districts have foundations — and then partner with that foundation and bring some expertise on that board to help with the elementary campus, and perhaps some others,” Marlin Superintendent Michael Seabolt said during a school board meeting this week.

The nearby Hearne district created several charter campuses last year in hopes of improving test scores while not being subject to state standards.

Under a measure passed in 2017, troubled schools can get a two-year pause in accountability to the state in exchange for allowing a charter school organization to handle those campuses.

Charters have more flexibility in operating schools and less stringent test standards than public school districts.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath in 2017 appointed a five-member board to take over control of Marlin schools after overall test scores failed to meet state standards for the fifth straight year.

Marlin, southeast of Waco, threatened in February to sue the state for repeatedly giving the district failing marks, insisting that its test scores were higher than the state said.

The legal action never came about. Instead, it appears that the charter partnership could sufficiently shield the district from requirements to meet public school standards.

The 2017 legislation was opposed by public school teacher associations and backed by charter school advocates.

Public-school representatives have suggested that the same leeway — and funding — afforded to the charters be given to public districts in the turnaround process.

“We already have other campus turnaround models,” Patty Quinzi a lobbyist for the Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers, said during testimony on the bill. “The same standards should apply [for the charter operators].”

Several districts began using the program during the 2017-2018 school year, including Hearne, two schools in Austin and three in San Antonio.

The law is projected to require $10.3 million from the Foundation School Fund, the state’s primary funding for public schools, over the next five years.

Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected].

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