PSJA ISD and Sen. Hinojosa

“Everybody’s afraid of change”

If one looks at what is going on at PSJA ISD, which shares three cities – Pharr, San Juan, and Alamo – one could almost call it the Great Debate. Is what the district’s superintendent, Daniel King, trying to do good or bad for the district? At its heart and soul stands SB 1882 and its related legislation in the Texas House, HB 3439. In the senate, it was passed unanimously, 31-0. In the House, the vote was almost unanimous.

In January of this year, the Texas Education Agency released this brief, albeit dry, description of SB 1882:

SB 1882 is an Act relating to a school district contract to partner with an open-enrollment charter school or other eligible entity to operate a district campus.

The bill states that to be eligible to access the benefits described in SB 1882, the partnered campus must be granted a charter under Subchapter C, Chapter 12. The district may partner with two types of entities to operate the charter:

  • •  A State-Authorized Open-Enrollment Charter School in good standing. State-authorized open-enrollment charter schools are also known as Subchapter D open-enrollment charters. To be eligible for the benefits associated with SB 1882 the open-enrollment charter partner may not have been previously revoked and must have received acceptable academic and financial accountability ratings for the three preceding school years.

  • •  On approval by the Commissioner, other entities. These other entities include institutions of higher education, non-profits, or government entities that have been granted a charter under Subchapter C, Chapter 12.

The bill states that to access the benefits associated with SB 1882 the partner entity must operate the campus. TEA is writing final rules defining what it means ‘to contract, to partner, to operate’ the campus.”

As most people already know who have been following the local news, SB 1882 has become a hot-button issue in PSJA, to put it mildly. To get a handle on why the state senators were so in favor of this piece of legislation, Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa (D- District 20) took time out last week for a brief interview.

As a sitting senator, when SB 1882 came up before you and your colleagues, what was the general dynamic going on in the State Senate at the time that culminated in a unanimous vote in favor of it?

Sen. Hinojosa: “At the time, there were some schools that (were registering) a dropout rate of 80, 85 percent. In the poor areas of Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, it seemed like nothing could work to get them back on track other than just being taken over or shutting them down. We came up with the concept of allowing some of these public schools to partner with a charter school to help them improve their dropout rate and provide an education to the students. What Dr. King has figured out is that charter schools get more money than public schools.”

Granted, money isn’t the great panacea as some people have made clear. Still, in the RGV, traditional public schools are getting approximately $904 less per pupil, per day, than charter schools. So, does SB 1882 help address that monetary divide?

Sen. Hinojosa: “What Dr. King is trying to do is change the dynamics. The funding per pupil will increase (under King’s proposal). It wouldn’t change anything else with the teachers. I’ve been reading some of the information being put out by, obviously, unions or the teacher associations. Everybody’s afraid of change. They don’t want to rock the boat; but quite frankly, we need to take bold action to improve our schools.”

Correct me if I’m wrong, but really, what (King) is doing is a first of its kind. If you look at San Antonio ISD, for example, some of its campuses have those high dropout rates, so basically they just handed them over, for lack of a better phrase, to charter schools, charter operations. That, however, is not what he’s proposing for PSJA ISD, based on what he has said. Based on what you know, he has come up with a whole different model? Unlike San Antonio, for example, PSJA ISD is in good shape financially, but according to PSJA’s superintendent, if the teachers and the school board vote in favor of his version of SB 1882, or what he calls EmpowerED, and the TEA commissioner finally approves it, PSJA stands to garner $28 million in additional monies the first year. Is that the way you understand it?

Sen. Hinojosa: “Correct. He is doing it because it will bring in additional funding and be of benefit to the entire school system.”

In the state senate, when it comes to education, how often do you see a unanimous vote, as was the case with SB 1882?

Sen. Hinojosa: “It’s always a split vote; but on this issue, it wasn’t. In trying to find a way to approach and deal with the dropout rate and the schools that are failing, (this came) to a unanimous vote.”

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