Education13 Traditional Districts, 8 Charters Earn ‘F’ Grades in Financial Accountability

When trying to compare the financial responsibility of traditional school districts and charters, 2020's results are a mixed bag.
August 16, 2021
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Some research suggests that charter schools use taxpayer money more efficiently than traditional public schools. As always, real numbers tell a more complicated story, though a few clear patterns stand out.

Every year, the Texas Education Agency (TEA) grades schools based on their fiscal management. Known as the Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST), the rubric takes into account debt, administrative pay, and other standards of money management.

Since the process is meant to vet out the severest mismanagement, very few districts fail. Out of the state’s nearly 1,200 local education agencies (LEA), only 13 traditional districts and eight charters received F grades for the 2019-2020 school year according to data the TEA released on August 6. They are listed below.

Since there are just over 1,000 traditional districts and 171 non-university charters in Texas, charters suffered a greater share of failing schools than traditional districts. 4.7 percent of charters received F grades compared to 1.3 percent of regular districts.

Source: TEA.

However, failing districts accounted for a greater share of students than charters. 1.4 percent of regular district students went to a failing school compared to less than one percent of students that attended charters. In terms of raw numbers, these percentages amounted to 70,569 students at failing districts and 2,884 at failing charters. To put it another way, failing districts served more students than failing charters, both in absolute tallies and percentages.

The Texan Tumbler

Source: TEA

There are only four possible grades in the FIRST rating: A, B, C, and F. Only F is a failing grade.

Among these grades, charters tended more towards the middle than districts. When comparing percentages of total student enrollment, charters only surpassed regular districts in the B grade. In other words, greater shares of regular district students attended schools that earned an A, C, or F grade compared to charter students.

More specifically, about 84 percent of regular district students attended an A-grade district, compared to about 65 percent of charter students. Only 9 percent of regular district students went to a B-grade school, a far smaller share than the 32 percent of charter students attending B-grade schools. Around 6 percent of regular district students and 3 percent of charter students attended C-grade schools.

In both categories, most LEAs earned an A, and most Texas students are attending A-rated schools.

A district’s FIRST rating should not be confused with a school’s academic A-F rating. While FIRST grades measure fiscal responsibility, the academic A-F grades aim to measure how well the school helps students learn.

FIRST grades are required by law. If a school district receives a failing grade, the law empowers the TEA commissioner to appoint a monitor to report on the district’s activities or even a conservator to run the district temporarily. For example, the TEA placed a conservator over Desoto ISD last year to reduce the budget and reorganize staff.

The latest data comes from the 2019-2020 school year. The Texan’s study does not include university charters.

Source: TEA

Failed traditional districts:

  • Beeville ISD
  • Culberson County-Allamore ISD
  • Hillsboro ISD
  • Divide ISD
  • Peaster ISD
  • Round Rock ISD
  • Desoto ISD
  • Taft ISD
  • Rio Hondo ISD
  • Collinsville ISD
  • Tioga ISD
  • Matagorda ISD
  • Terrell County ISD

Failed charters (non-university charters):

  • Priority Charter Schools
  • Academy of Dallas
  • Comquest Academy
  • The Rhodes School for Performing Arts
  • Bloom Academy Charter School
  • Betty M. Condra School for Education Innovation
  • Texas Serenity Academy
  • Ranch Academy

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Isaiah Mitchell

Isaiah Mitchell is a reporter for The Texan, a Texas native, and a huge Allman Brothers fan. He graduated cum laude from Trinity University in 2020 with a degree in English. Isaiah loves playing music and football with his family.