On July 5th, the Houston Chronicle published an article targeting charter schools and HCA specifically. We do not believe the article accurately reflects the important role of charters or the mission of HCA to bring options for quality education to the students of northwest Houston.
Below, we are sharing a letter to the editor that our board chair, Stuart Saunders, has sent to the Houston Chronicle in response to the article. In addition, we have taken the time to outline for you, the families and supporters of our school, several points that you may have questions about from the article.
We believe in classical education. We believe in giving families with no options, the option for a quality education close to home. And we believe in transparency, which is why we are sharing the below so that you are informed with all of the information.
You can find the full Houston Chronicle article here: https://bit.ly/3aTMix2
Submitted Letter to Editor to the Houston Chronicle from Stuart Saunders, HCA board chair is as follows:
I am writing regarding your July 5th article on charter schools and Heritage Classical Academy. What I find most disappointing about the charter school application process is how little attention is paid to children and families that are stuck in underperforming schools. Anti- charter forces stir up dust arguing about taking funding away from existing schools, or political ideology, or 1619 Project, or 1776 Project, or personal donations and social media posts made by private citizens. All these arguments are red herrings – distractions to pull attention away from the real issue – underperforming public schools and the fundamental need for parents to have a choice.
No one seems interested in the thousands upon thousands of Texas children that are languishing in failing schools. No one seems to care that in 77092, where we intended to locate our school, Wainwright Elementary was rated an overall D, with an F in student achievement, and Clifton Middle School was rated an overall D, with an F in academic growth. 1 What shall we tell those families? What happens to those children while the system plays politics vetoing charter applicants?
There are literally thousands of families in Houston searching for better options for their children. It is our goal at Heritage Classical Academy to provide those families with a choice. We want to offer them hope for a better education and a brighter future. If only the education bureaucracy would allow that to happen.
For our HCA families and supporters, below are the board's in-depth responses to Houston Chronicle statements:
1. The most important point to understand is this: In contradiction to the reporter’s lede, the school was not designed as a response to anti-racism, LGBTQ-inclusive sex education, etc. It was designed to serve the needs of children in NW Houston who live in areas where there are several poorly performing schools. In our application, we identified our home area as 77092, where Wainwright Elementary, Clifton Middle School, and Scarborough High School are located. All are rated poorly with less than 25% of students passing English or Math on the STAAR test. These three schools also have a 95 to 97% minority population. It is these students that most need other education options in their neighborhood and who we want to reach.
There are no classical charter schools in the area that we are applying to serve. The Chronicle gives the impression by quoting anti-charter SBOE member Georgina Perez that a classical charter school is on every street corner in Texas. That’s just not the case.
2. The accusation that charter schools take away funding from district public schools is the biggest myth that must be addressed.
Charter schools do not receive any local property tax dollars. They receive state dollars, but those funds do not include dollars for transportation or buildings. All schools receive an allowance from the state based on average student attendance. On average, charter schools receive a few hundred dollars less. Ten years ago, all schools received just over $8000 per child per year. Now schools receive over $11,000 per year, with charter schools receiving a few hundred dollars less. On average, no school district has lost money because of charter schools. The property tax evaluations rise, the budgets rise, the number of students rise, and the money paid to all schools rises. Theoretically, it is possible for district schools to lose money, but the actual numbers tell a different story.
As far as accountability is concerned, a charter is much more accountable to the parents than a district school. Parents must choose to send their children to the charter school. If the school is not doing a good job, it closes as it should. When have you heard of a district public school closing for failing to do its job?
3. The Chronicle says that Heritage failed. This shows a complete misunderstanding of the charter school process. Our school was recommended three times by the Texas Education Agency and Commissioner Mike Morath. The SBOE only holds a veto privilege. The deciding veto was cast by Member Jay Johnson, who is on record in the paper for vetoing not because we are classical; not because we are a charter, not because there isn’t a need, but “for personal reasons.”
The article gives a false impression that there was overwhelming support for the veto. In fact, nowhere in the article did the reporter interview any of the six SBOE members who voted for us.
It also incorrectly reported that three GOP SBOE members voted against us. In fact, it was only two. The article incorrectly stated that SBOE Member Malone voted against us. She was not present so did not vote. The final vote was 8 to 6. Jay Johnson and Matt Robinson were the only GOP SBOE members to vote against us. Chairman Kevin Ellis voted for us.
So, what happens in a tie? This is interesting. According to the SBOE attorney, a tie veto does not prevent a charter from advancing. The law clearly states that there must be a majority against which there was.
4. To add greater perspective to the article’s claim that the purpose of the Barney Charter School Initiative is to introduce more conservative ideology into schools, here is the truth. The BCSI is a grassroots movement driven from the bottom up, not the top down. Local citizens who are concerned about education apply to Hillsdale College and if accepted into their program, BCSI provides a scope and sequence (not a curriculum), training for teachers and school boards at no charge.
5. The article references the 1776 Project that was initiated by the Trump administration. That initiative has nothing to do with our school. Neither does the fact that Justice Thomas’s wife worked at Hillsdale college. While the head of the 1776 Commission is the head of Hillsdale College, he does not serve on OUR board. He does not direct our policies or select any of our board members. We teach history using primary sources as much as possible in our studies of world history, western civilization, and American history.
6. The article raises the issue about why we had Brer Rabbit stories in our reading list. Brer Rabbit is a collection of stories called moral “trickster” tales from western Africa which traveled to the U.S. from enslaved Africans who preserved them and passed them down. A white northerner Joel Chandler Harris (1848-1908) spent the summer at a southern plantation and heard these stories firsthand and wrote them down and published them. Chandler was not a racist. In fact, he started a magazine to help combat racial prejudice. Until this generation, his books were read and enjoyed by children and adults everywhere. But because of the current political climate, we pulled the book from our curriculum. Our plan was to choose updated versions of the stories that do not have stereotypical speech patterns When read in the correct historical context, and having wholesome honest discussions, these stories are a treasure central to our American literary heritage.
7. The allegations that we are teaching slavery and racism are patently false. SBOE member Georgina Perez misquoted an HCA board member’s Facebook comment from five and half years ago and lifted it out of context. The SBOE Chairman called for a vote to allow the said board member to speak in her defense, but SBOE member Perez said, “I don’t want to give this individual an opportunity to defend her freedom of speech. Period.” The vote ended in a tie. So, the HCA board member was not permitted to clarify that the remarks were both misquoted and taken out of context.
8. What about The Chronicle’s allegations of “aggressive lobbying”? We had to lobby because that is the only legal means given to a charter applicant to contact the SBOE members. Current law dictates what’s called “black out periods.” What this means is that from the time the application was submitted (Dec 6, 2021) until 90 days after the SBOE hearing (September 15, 2022), no approved charter applicant can contact the SBOE. To do so is a violation of law and automatically disqualifies the application.
It is our belief that it would be a much fairer system to revise the black out periods. These laws only apply to the applicants, not their detractors or adversaries, or to their supporters. Charter schools have many adversaries: namely, Texas Association of Schools Boards (TASB), teacher unions, and non-profit organizations like Raise Your Hand Texas.
In regards to the donations made by the Saunders family, is The Chronicle suggesting that they want obscene materials taught in schools? The Saunders family had personal experiences with pornographic literature being taught to their son in school, which fueled their passion to support organizations that wanted to end that.
9. It's worth noting that the SBOE’s role is to ensure that TEA followed their procedures, not to bring incredulous and false accusations against charter school applicants and play politics. We want to bring a first-class education to a neighborhood that doesn’t have that option. We did not enter this as a political fight. We wanted to teach kids.
The Texas Legislature never intended for the SBOE to act as a choke point on charter schools. In fact, at one time, the Texas Legislature gave the power to the SBOE to approve charter schools, but they removed it, leaving them a veto privilege.