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Two school districts voice concern over financial impact of charter schools

CORINTH — Denton and Lake Dallas ISDs joined forces Thursday evening to talk about a potential loss of funding as charter schools continue to grow in Texas.

During a joint meeting with the Corinth City Council, both districts said they stand to lose millions in revenue if charter schools keep opening up. According to Bill Gumbert, the financial adviser for Denton and Lake Dallas ISDs, charter school enrollment is increasing an average of 13 percent each year. Data from the Texas Education Agency shows 14 charter schools currently situated in Denton County.

"Overall, charter schools, based upon our research, have become the select sports of public education," Gumbert said. "There's some exclusivity to it and there's 'international' or 'college prep' in the name. There's not a school district in the state of Texas that's not trying to prepare kids to go to college."

Charter schools were created in 1995 by the Texas Legislature to provide "flexibility to adapt to the educational needs of individual students and encourage more innovation in education," according to the Texas Charter Schools Association. The free schools aren't subject to as many regulations as public school districts, but must obtain a charter to operate from TEA.

Charter schools also are funded differently than school districts. 

Charters get a mix of private and public funds with all of their public money coming from the state, Gumbert said. By contrast, traditional public schools are funded through a mix of local, state and federal funds, he said. 

Currently, taxpayers carry the majority of the burden in funding public schools: about 60 percent of Texas school district funds come from property taxes, 39 percent comes from the state and the remaining 1 percent is federally funded. In short, the more money a district raises in tax dollars, the less it gets from the state.

"That affects the city budgets, too, because whenever [districts] have to raise your taxes, people don't come complain to you," Corinth City Council Member Lowell Johnson said. "But, boy, they show up here whenever they get their tax bills."

Up until this year, charter schools didn't receive state money to build schools. That changed when the 2017 legislature allocated $60 million to pay for charter school buildings.

Several state and federal officials are proponents of charter schools, especially when it comes to the "school choice" movement. Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of Education, championed charter schools in Michigan, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott spoke in favor of charters this spring at a Texas Charter Schools Association rally.

"As Governor, I will work to provide our children with the best education possible by expanding and improving charter schools in Texas," he said at the rally. "Access to a quality education is not a political issue, and Texans must come together to make sure no child is deprived of a quality education."

About 300,000 Texas students are enrolled in 700 charter schools, according to Gumbert's report, and local school districts are starting to see financial impacts.

Gumbert said roughly 2.3 percent of Denton ISD's operating budget has been sapped from charter schools in the area, while Lake Dallas has seen 5.6 percent of its operating budget decline. In total, Gumbert estimated that Denton, Lake Dallas and Lewisville ISDs have lost $26.3 million in revenue to competing charter schools.

The school officials also said that traditional public schools offer a more diverse environment than charter schools and also boast the same or better test scores.

"I think there are excellent charter schools and I think there are excellent private schools in this world, but they were intended to be in environments where students had no other way out, those who were in extreme poverty and needed another choice from a failing school," Lake Dallas ISD Superintendent Gayle Stinson said. "Ladies and gentlemen, there's not a failing school in this community. ... I think we all do a grand job together and I want to continue to do that and not allow anyone any further option to come in and tear that down."

CAITLYN JONES can be reached at 940-566-6862.