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May 16, 2001     (512) 463-0300

Charter School Debate
Makes a Sudden Stop

AUSTIN - A heated debate on an open-enrollment charter schools measure came to an abrupt halt when its sponsor pulled down the bill in the Senate today.

The Committee Substitute for House Bill (CSHB) 6 would change the regulations covering the establishment and operations of the schools. Open-enrollment charter schools are public schools and are paid for with state funds. They are operated under a charter, or contract, with the state.

"In the bill as filed, I have attempted to strike a compromise between those who want to bring it to a grinding halt and those who want it to keep going on like a steaming locomotive, and so we have limited charter-granting authority in this bill," said Amarillo Sen. Teel Bivins, CSHB 6's sponsor and the chair of the Senate Education Committee.

"It's important that this bill pass the Senate and get to conference committee, because if that doesn't happen, and this bill fails, we revert to current law which allows for the unlimited issuance of charters."

Austin Sen. Gonzalo Barrientos joined Corpus Christi Sen. Carlos F. Truan in condemning the proliferation and performance of charter schools. Barrientos read from a list of charter school failings, including pass rates on the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS) test that are less than half the state average. Truan allowed that while there are some good institutions, charter schools have "multiplied like rabbits."

When amendments were offered by several senators, Bivins opposed changing the bill, saying the Senate should remain in a flexible position for conference committee negotiations. Among the amendments offered included requirements that the schools meet certain academic standards to have their charters renewed or amended.

Another amendment that would have required legislators to be notified when the Texas Education Agency considers or grants a charter originally failed on a 15-15 vote, but later passed on a 16-14 vote when it was reconsidered.

Eventually, Bivins grew annoyed with the amendments and abruptly withdrew the bill from consideration.

Bivins later reiterated that CSHB 6 would be "a vast improvement" over current law, and said that he wanted his colleagues to think of that. He added that late-session stress may have added to the tension of the debate.

Bivins said he may move to bring the bill up for discussion again as soon as Thursday.

Also in today's session, the Senate passed House Bill (HB) 7, a measure sponsored by Waco Sen. David Sibley that would create the Office of Rural Community Affairs as a stand-alone state agency focusing on rural issues.

The Senate also adopted Senate Concurrent Resolution (SCR) 54, which would urge the U.S. Congress to normalize trade relations with Cuba. Beaumont Sen. David Bernsen, the author of SCR 54, said Texas would benefit from a large new market only days away from Gulf of Mexico ports.

The Senate stands adjourned until 8 a.m. Thursday when bills on the Local and Uncontested Calendar will be taken up. The Senate will then reconvene at 9 a.m.

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