By Georgina C. Perez
As a little girl living out of a duffel bag, schools were one of the few stable environments I could rely on.
When I got older, the fact that there were other displaced kids just like me out there drove me to work my way from the maquiladoras and night classes to my first job in a classroom.
After a decade of working with El Paso’s highest-risk students, I was proud to be chosen by our community to fight for our schools on the Texas State Board of Education.
One of the things I quickly realized is that the rapid expansion of charter schools is slowly defunding our critical neighborhood public schools. Charters are schools that are funded by taxpayers like you and me but run by private businesses — often sending our tax dollars to states like California, Florida, and New York.
As an educator, I have always prioritized the students who face the most significant challenges. I’ve taught students with special needs, gang members, and kids experiencing homelessness. These are the students who charters don’t want in their buildings.
The truth is that students in public schools are protected by decades of state and federal laws that guarantee their right to a free and appropriate education. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires public schools to provide, free of charge, any services required by a special education student under their individualized education plan.
Many people don’t realize that those protections go away the minute a child walks in the front door of a charter school. But that hasn’t stopped charters from trying to lure students with special needs through misleading marketing and empty promises – hoping that parents won’t read the fine print.
So who exactly is benefiting?
Texans spend a staggering $3.1 billion per year subsidizing unaccountable charter schools, and all our taxpayer money is making charter owners rich. Just look at the recent headlines about the state’s largest charter chain, IDEA Public Schools, spending millions on a private jet and a luxury suite to watch the San Antonio Spurs.
Currently, the Texas State Board of Education is the only check voters have against new charter chains’ approval. This past year, my colleagues and I vetoed the creation of three newly proposed charter chains that would have drawn millions more tax dollars away from our neighborhood schools.
Charter lobbyists are already funding efforts in the Texas Legislature this session to remove that veto authority, which would eliminate the only say Texas voters and taxpayers have in the process.
Meanwhile, voters have no say in the expansion of existing charter chains like IDEA – which are popping up new franchises all over the state to compete for funding with our neighborhood schools.
Legislators must not be distracted by charter lobbyists trying to ban Texans from having a say over where our tax dollars go. The Texas Legislature must instead protect taxpayers by preserving SBOE oversight and expanding the authority of the SBOE to approve or reject charter expansions.
Voters must have a say when we’re footing the bill, especially when charters are drawing that money away from our community schools to fund their dishonest marketing efforts targeting our most vulnerable students.
Georgina C. Perez has represented El Paso on the State Board of Education since 2017.