By Ben Erwin
The Texas Legislature enacted Senate Bill 1882 last year with bipartisan support to offer incentives for the use of partnerships between public school districts and charter school operators.
Partnership schools are growing in popularity as a “third way” to approach school governance and improvement.
According to a brief from the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), partnership schools are distinct from charter schools in that they operate as special district schools in accordance with a contract between the provider and the district, rather than being authorized to operate a school separately. In contrast to traditional public schools, partnership schools are granted a greater degree of autonomy to encourage innovation.
At least 10 districts across the country operate partnership schools, including multiple districts in Texas. This “third way” provides a compelling opportunity to navigate the political tension between traditional public schools and charter school expansion.
In a report on TX SB 1882, the Texas Aspires Foundation, explains that the reality in Texas is one of division along these lines. Encouraging a mutually beneficial relationship between charter school operators and traditional public schools provides increased opportunities for improving student outcomes. According to CRPE, partnership schools help to quell fears of declining enrollment and displacement, which opens the door for an exchange of resources and expertise to increase the capacity of both parties to provide quality school options to students.
Contractual agreements between districts and nonprofit school operators can take various forms depending on district needs and capacity. TX SB 1882 offers incentives for districts to enter into contractual agreements that can help to address their specific needs. The Texas Education Agency identified two key incentives in the legislation: A potential per-pupil funding increase and an exemption from accountability interventions for two years to allow time to implement innovative reforms. Creating an incentive structure for collaboration can help to bridge the gap between charter school operators and local school districts.
The inspiration for the legislation emerged as a product of what some districts in Texas were already doing. The Texas Aspires Foundation highlighted San Antonio Independent School District’s partnership with John H. Wood Jr. Charter District to provide additional supports for students with behavioral health needs.
In exchange for these additional supports John H. Wood Jr. Charter District operates a school within a district building. Districts may also seek to partner charter school operators with a local public school. For example, the Grand Prairie Independent School District partnered with Uplift Education Charter to operate two different programs on the same local campus, increasing opportunities within a local school. These types of cross-sector collaborations can help tailor school improvement efforts to varied contexts.
The Texas bill built upon innovations taking place at the district-level. By fostering relationships between charter school operators and traditional public schools, this bipartisan group of legislators is empowering school districts to collaborate for improved student outcomes.
Benjamin Erwin is an intern in NCSL's education program.