School choice supporters from across the state gathered at a rally on the Capitol's south lawn Wednesday to demand passage of legislation allowing more Texas charter schools.
The crowd, which the Texas Charter School Association estimated numbered about 700 parents, educators and students, heard from elected officials including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, before heading inside to meet with lawmakers.
"A student's future should not depend on a name being brought out of a hat like it is — well, what it is — a lottery," said Patrick, referring to the process by which charters pick students from wait lists. Patrick is the author of Senate Bill 2, the charter school legislation awaiting consideration on the House floor.
He reminded the crowd that the Senate had passed charter school legislation in 2009 and in 2011 only to see it fail in the lower chamber. He urged the crowd to tell their representatives that the measure needed to "get to the House floor and the governor's desk sooner rather than later."
"I'm here to support you in the House," Farney said. Both she and Rep. Diane Patrick are former members of the State Board of Education, which oversees the charter school system.
SB 2 has undergone a number of changes since Patrick initially proposed it. Among the most significant were changes to the number of charter contracts the state would be able to grant, which is currently limited at 215. The version that passed out of the House Public Education committee would gradually increase that cap to 275 over the next six years. The measure that passed the Senate would increase the cap to 305 by that year. Patrick's original bill, which would have removed the cap on contracts, encountered criticism from some lawmakers and education advocacy groups who questioned whether the state had the resources to adequately oversee such a dramatic expansion.
Dewhurst, who, along with Gov. Rick Perry, has vocally praised charter schools, said at the rally that he did not understand opposition to increasing high quality, effective charter schools.
"This isn't about bureaucrats; this is about the children," Dewhurst said. "If you give parents a choice, you give children a chance."
Perry, who was originally scheduled to address the rally, instead sent a statement in support.