San Antonio’s largest charter school network is gearing up for a fast-paced expansion over the next three years. IDEA Public Schools plans to add 15 schools in Bexar County by 2022, doubling its local enrollment to nearly 24,000 students.
It is part of an ambitious larger plan by the Rio Grande Valley-based charter network plan to add 120 schools in Texas, Louisiana and Florida by 2024. IDEA has gotten a big boost to help make that plan happen: four federal grants in five years worth more than $211 million combined.
This year, the U.S. Department of Education awarded IDEA its largest grant yet: $117 million to expand classrooms and launch new charter schools.
“We cast a vision for our growth plan, and then it has to be paid for somehow. So this just gives us confidence that what we envision in terms of growth will actually become a reality,” IDEA regional director Rolando Posada said.
When Posada came to San Antonio seven years ago, he said he made it his goal to have an IDEA school less than 10 minutes away from every family.
“We realized that this was one of the biggest cities in the country with one of the biggest needs. And so my vision was to put a school everywhere on the map of the city of San Antonio,” he said.
IDEA currently has 22 schools in San Antonio, mostly in low-income areas on the south and east sides. Its new schools are opening further to the north and west.
Posada said IDEA is able to grow quickly because it has a record of high academic performance.
“It creates this wave of publicity for us, and it draws just all sorts of customers, to be honest. In August of 2018, at the start of this school year, we had 14,000 scholars on a wait list,” he said.
Posada said IDEA’s goal is to make sure all students have access to a school that prepares them for college.
“We’re not growing because of any other reason than our results,” he said. “We don’t want it to be a miracle or a series of miracles for kids to access what middle income America grows up with ever since they’re with diapers.”
Several of IDEA’s new schools will likely be located in the Northside school district, one of the region’s wealthier and higher performing districts.
Northside Superintendent Brian Woods said he finds it interesting that charter schools are no longer limiting themselves to areas where the traditional public schools are struggling.
“If you have an area that’s being served extremely well, why would you need to introduce a duplicative service?” Woods asked.
Woods said he doesn’t mind competition, but he thinks state policy needs to be changed to level the playing field. He questions the enrollment practices of charter schools, even though they’re not allowed to have selective entrance criteria.
“While various groups will tell you that charter schools are taking all students, data indicates that’s not true,” Woods said.
Almost 90 percent of IDEA’s students are low income, significantly higher than the statewide average of 61 percent. But just five percent of IDEA’s students receive special education services, about half the rate of special education students in the average public school in Texas.
Posada said IDEA will use its federal grants primarily to pay for teacher and leadership training, including its principals in residence program. He said funding for land and construction comes from private donations.
More Expansion Plans
Two other charter schools with San Antonio locations also received federal grants to open new campuses: KIPP Texas and ResponsiveEd, which operates Premier High School, Founders Classical Academy and the Foundation School for Autism.
Mark Larson, chief external officer for KIPP Texas, said KIPP is creating a growth plan to determine where to expand next in the state, but “a sizeable chunk” of the $88 million awarded to the national KIPP Foundation is reserved for Texas.
“We have full intention to continue to grow and continue to grow in the San Antonio market,” Larson said.
KIPP is opening KIPP Somos Collegiate High School in San Antonio in the fall, but that was planned prior to receiving the grant.
Billy Rudolph with ResponsiveEd said the charter network plans to use its $15 million federal grant to replicate or expand 10 schools in Texas, mostly in and around Houston and Dallas.
Rudolph said the Foundation School for Autism in San Antonio will serve as a model for new schools in Dallas and possibly Austin.
“This is a school we would have loved to have more of across the state, but it is tough to fund a school like this, so getting a grant like this really greenlights the project,” Rudolph said.
He said part of the funding will be used to figure out what makes San Antonio’s autism school work, and that could include some enhancements and more classrooms.
Editor's Note: IDEA Public Schools is a contributor to Texas Public Radio's Education News Fund.
Camille Phillips can be reached at Camille@tpr.org or on Twitter @cmpcamille