Key charter school legislation would not have passed during the last legislative session without a provision removing much of the State Board of Education's authority in approving applications, Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, said Wednesday.
Defending the change at a state board meeting, Patrick told members it was the result of a compromise needed to get the bill through both chambers.
"I will just be very candid with you: There are members of the Legislature in both parties that didn't want you involved at all," said Patrick, who is running for lieutenant governor. "There is a sense that your plate is very full."
His remarks came after David Bradley, a Republican state board member from Beaumont, expressed frustration shared by many of his colleagues that he wasn't consulted on the bill.
"Never did we hear any discussion as to why the SBOE was losing the authority, what the problems were, nor could we respond if there was a problem with the SBOE oversight of the charters," Bradley said.
Supporters of the push to move responsibility for charter school approval to the state's education commissioner argued that the state board, which is unpaid and meets five to six times a year, did not have adequate resources to oversee an expanded process.
"Most of your voters don't even understand, and some legislators don't even understand, how hard you work, how much responsibility you have, the fact you're paid even less than legislators, how little staff you have and how important you are," Patrick said on Wednesday.
The provision was among a slate of reforms in Senate Bill 2, which was the first major update to the state's charter school system in almost two decades. Other changes included an increase in the number of charter contracts the state can award and a streamlined process for charter operators who want to add new campuses.
But SBOE members and some lawmakers have questioned the consequences of moving purview over charters from elected officials to a single appointed commissioner. They have raised concerns that it could result in a more politically charged application process that lacks transparency.
At a July state board meeting, Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael Williams told members that the agency wanted to keep the board’s involvement “as close to what it’s been in the past," with board members still invited to sit in on interviews and give their input.
SBOE members will also still be able to veto any applications the commissioner approves — something Patrick reminded them of Wednesday.
"The way I see it, we elevated you all to the rank of governor," he said. "We know the governor doesn't pass bills, but he does have the veto pen."