Charters, DOIs, and Partnerships: Alternative Education Environments
Once upon a time, teachers had two choices of where to work: the public school system or a private school. But today in Texas these choices have expanded and now include public charter schools, Districts of Innovation, and public-private partnerships. The differences between these entities are not always immediately apparent. It is important that teachers know what to look for and what questions to ask when they apply for a position as the rights, working conditions, and benefits of teachers working at charter schools, in Districts of Innovation, or in 1882 Partnerships can vary from those in a traditional public school.
How is a charter school different from a traditional public school?
Public charter schools may be run as private entities or in conjunction with a public school district. Even though charter schools are treated as governmental entities in many respects and receive funding from the state, charter schools often have the “feel” of a private school. Many of the rules and regulations of the Texas Education Code and Administrative Code—the collection of statutes that govern public school administration in Texas—do not apply to charter schools.
The significant difference for the teacher is that charter schools are exempt from most requirements of the Texas Education Code, the source of most teacher rights and protections. Charter schools are required to follow the laws generally required by employers, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and prohibitions on illegal discrimination. However, a charter school is not required to provide most of the teacher-specific rights and benefits included in the Texas Education Code, such as planning time, duty-free lunch, class-size limits, and due process protections. And while most if not all charter schools employ teachers under contracts, it is usually far easier for a charter school to terminate a contract.
What is a District of Innovation?
Since 2015, the Texas Education Code has allowed public school districts rated acceptable or higher the option to become “Districts of Innovation” (DOI). This status allows a district to exempt itself from many sections of the Texas Education Code. DOI proponents believe DOIs can use the flexibility to make the best decisions for their unique circumstances. There are concerns, however, that districts becoming DOIs can eliminate teachers’ rights, even rights generally taken for granted, and that because a DOI looks no different than a non-DOI school district, teachers may not know when accepting employment that things can be very different. The legal provisions DOIs may opt out of include duty-free lunch periods, maximum class size, educator certification requirements, teacher contracts, and length of school day.
Each district’s innovation plan can be different as each district chooses its own exceptions. So, it is important for educators to ask or look online to see if a district they are considering has become a DOI and, if so, which Education Code provisions it has exempted itself from.
What is a Public-Private 1882 Partnership?
The most recent alternative arrangement is the 1882 Partnership, named after Senate Bill 1882 from the 2017 legislative session. Under an 1882 partnership agreement, a district pairs with a selected partner, often a nonprofit entity, with experience in public education. The partner operates a school or schools in the district on a day-to-day basis. The partner has responsibility and authority regarding staffing issues such as hiring, evaluations, and who gets to remain at the partner school. The partner is also responsible for curriculum and calendar. The district remains responsible for finances and overall academic performance.
The partnership structure creates an unusual tension for the teachers at the partnership school. The teachers remain officially employed by the district, but the law requires the teachers’ supervisor be an employee of the partner, and the partner has the legal right to notify the district administration that a particular teacher is no longer wanted at the partnership school. The district may find the teacher another assignment at another district campus, but it is also possible the district could, if consistent with their policies, pursue termination of the teacher’s employment.
Like charters and DOIs, partnership schools are exempt from many requirements of the Texas Education Code, including day-to-day rights and benefits such as planning time and duty-free lunch.
The legal information provided here is accurate as of the date of publication. It is provided here is for informative purposes only. Individual legal situations vary greatly, and readers needing individual legal advice should consult directly with an attorney. Please note: Rights based on the Texas Education Code may not apply to all. Many Texas Education Code provisions do not apply to public charter schools, and public school districts may have opted out of individual provisions through a District of Innovation plan. Eligible ATPE members may contact the ATPE Member Legal Services Department.