Construction workers lay cement at the KIPP Cevallos campus before it opened in 2016, part of a wave of charter school expansion in San Antonio that could continue in August from five new charter networks whose applications are now being reviewed by the state.
Four charter operators have asked the Texas Education Agency to let them open new schools in the San Antonio area, with ambitions of enrolling thousands of students within the next five years.
Paperwork submitted to the agency during the most recent application period is listed as “under review.” If approved, the charter networks plan to open in the 2020-21 school year.
The applications come as traditional public school districts are increasingly voicing frustration with the growth of charter schools for contributing to their reduced state funding by eating into their enrollment.
One network, Flex High School of Texas, or FLEX-TX, will target “opportunity youth,” a group described as 16-to-24-year-olds who “have not graduated from high school, are not in school, and are not working,” who it plans to serve with “flexible learning,” according to its application.
Texas First Education Foundation, whose board includes former Edgewood Independent School District superintendent Jimmy Vasquez, is hoping to launch FLEX-TX to expand Learn4Life schools now run by Lifelong Learning Administrative Corporation, or LLAC, in California, Michigan and Ohio.
It anticipates enrolling 650 high school students in its first year at two campuses, or “Learning Centers,” one in San Antonio and another in Austin, with a proposal to ultimately open seven centers in the two cities, with about 600 students at each center.
The network’s superintendent is Caprice Young, a former Los Angeles School Board president and former CEO of the charter network Magnolia Public Schools. If approved, FLEX-TX’s San Antonio center would be located in the “South/Central” part of the city, according to the application.
Prelude Preparatory Inc. has applied to open a kindergarten through eighth grade campus within San Antonio Independent School District’s boundaries, in Zip code 78210 or 78223. An application by Lauren Lewis, a fellow at the Boston-based Building Excellent Schools, which trains aspiring charter school operators, outlined a plan that includes a “strong Social and Emotional Learning component,” and extended school days.
The school anticipates 144 kindergarten and first grade students in its first year starting in August, and growing to more than 600 students in five years as new grades are added each year.
Another Building Excellent Schools fellow, Stephanie Hall Powell, has applied to open San Antonio Preparatory Charter School within Judson ISD for fifth through 12th graders.
If approved, the school’s education plan includes using a team-teaching model in middle school, and “restorative practices” to reduce suspensions and improve school culture. Powell, a former teacher and assistant principal at IDEA Public Schools in San Antonio, wrote in the application that the school aims to start with about 170 students and grow to more than 1,300.
The Gathering Place, a proposed K-8 charter school, aims to bring together “three historically divided neighborhoods” and “two socioeconomic worlds,” with students from Zip codes in North East, San Antonio, Northside and Edgewood ISDs.
The application calls for daily arts education, social-emotional learning and a project-based approach.
Its founders, Joanna Klekowicz and Ryan York, have worked with charter and public schools in Tennessee and are fellows at San Antonio’s City Education Partners, according to their application. The school would start with 378 students and growing to 1,458.
Prelude, Gathering Place and San Antonio Prep’s applications list among their financial backers Choose to Succeed, a coalition that invited a cohort of influential charter networks to locate in San Antonio several years ago and helped fund their arrival and expansion. The recent spate of applications also include as backers the Brackenridge Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation and City Education Partners, also prominent in supporting local charter schools.
The new applications, submitted to TEA in its Generation 24 cycle, do not include organizations with existing charters seeking amendments to expand, such as IDEA Public Schools and Great Hearts Texas, which submitted letters to local school districts notifying them of expansion plans.
Charter advocates have pointed to the need for more choices for parents, especially those living in neighborhoods served by struggling or low-performing traditional public campuses. Superintendents of the city’s two largest traditional school districts, Brian Woods at Northside ISD and Brian Gottardy at North East ISD, last fall called for a “community conversation” about the impact of charter schools’ growth.
School districts that lose students to charters lose state funding that is based on enrollment, but face fixed expenses for staffing and transportation, creating budget problems and fewer resources for students who remain, they said. In the past week, board members in South San Antonio and Judson ISDs have blamed the growth of charter schools for some of their enrollment and financial woes.
Statewide, more than 270,000 students attend 675 charter school campuses, according to the Texas Charter Schools Association.