Dallas Independent School District (DISD) is really trying to put the emphasis on “independent” in its name. A set of Texas charter laws established in 1995 allows districts to free themselves from some state rule in favor of a board/voter approved charter, creating a charter district known as a home-rule district. While there are a number of charter schools throughout Texas, there has never been a charter district.
Home-rule districts (HRDs) are exempt from and can change:
- Governance laws
- Teacher contracts
- State salary schedules
- Days in the school year
- Length of the school day
- Attendance and transfers
- Special education
- Student discipline
There are several difficulties a traditional independent school district would face in order to convert to a charter district, including:
The Creation of the Charter. A home-rule charter has to come from 2/3 of an existing district school board or by a petition signed by at least 5 percent of the voters.
Voter Turnout. In order to pass a home-rule charter, there has to be at least a 25% voter turnout for the measure with a majority vote.
Simple changes to the charter laws would make the process realistically obtainable for any ISD wishing to convert to a home-rule charter.The creation of a home-rule charter must come from vote from the parents of that school district, not from the school board. Voter turnout is historically very low for local elections. Removing the turnout requirement would make the conversion to a home-rule charter much smoother.
Texas Public Policy Foundation made some recommendations to improve the home-rule charter law in 2012:
- Remove the 25% voter turnout requirement in local elections.
- Empower parents to drive the charter process by enabling them to create and have their charter petition placed directly on a local election ballot without working through their local school board.
- Remove seat-time requirements to encourage online and blended learning models in home-rule school districts.
- Remove the 22:1 class-size cap for home-rule school districts.
- Do not require home-rule school districts to use bilingual education as their default provision for English language learners. Rather, allow them to choose a program that best suits the needs of their student body, such as sheltered English immersion.