Nonprofit foundations run by the leaders of high-tech giants such as Dell and Microsoft could be in line to take control of low-performing Texas schools, under a law signed last week by Republican Gov. Rick Perry.

The law gives low-performing schools in the state four years to improve before they are either permanently closed or taken over by a “qualified” nonprofit organization.

Eleven Texas schools, awaiting the release of the state’s annual rankings in August, must show improvement or they’ll be subject to the sanctions, according to an Associated Press (AP) report.

“No child should be in a school that’s failing,” said state Sen. Florence Shapiro, a Republican from Plano, Texas, who designed the provision. It was part of a school finance package that lawmakers approved in their recent special session.

Campuses that have been rated academically unacceptable by the state for at least three years would be eligible for takeover by a nonprofit organization that has proven record in helping to turn around struggling schools. After four years, the sanctions are mandatory.

The Texas Education Agency has not yet determined eligible organizations, but Shapiro expects the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Milken Family Foundation to qualify. Even a nearby school district could qualify.

The Dell and Gates Foundations have actively supported education and ed-tech initiatives, and the Milken Family Foundation also has a history of funding programs that use technology as a key tool for school reform.

“The nonprofit [takeover] is about the last thing that happens,” Shapiro said. “Way before that, there are intervention programs and tools that are given to the schools that are heading in that direction.”

When problems are first identified, schools will be required to implement an improvement plan designed and approved by TEA officials.

If that doesn’t help the school meet state requirements, the school’s principal and teachers will be replaced with an intervention team selected by the TEA. Both measures are already enforced under current law.

Sam Houston High School in Houston is one of the 11 schools that would be subject to the new law if they haven’t shown improvement in August. They were considered low performing because not enough black students passed the math portion of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Some of the school’s staff members were replaced last year to help fix the problem.

“We’re waiting on TEA, and we’ll follow their guidance,” said Adriana Villarreal, deputy press secretary for the Houston Independent School District.

A TEA spokeswoman said experts are studying the law and will soon develop rules for its implementation.

The measure allows the state to help schools “get an injection of new ideas and direction about how to turn this school around,” Shapiro said.

When pursuing alternative management, the district must enter into a contract for no more than five years, with an option to renew. The district can request a waiver if the problem can be easily targeted.

But some education groups worry about possible implications that might hamper a school’s improvement efforts. Once a school is determined to be at risk of closure, teachers might start looking to leave.

“We’re concerned that an unintended consequence may be that they can’t get staff or keep the staff in those campuses that are going to allow them to turn it around,” said Richard Kouri, a lobbyist for the Texas State Teachers Association. “It might have the opposite impact in terms of what we’re trying to achieve in those schools.”

Only two Texas schools were low performing for the fourth consecutive year, according to AP. Both charter schools, the Legacy High School Party of Honors Academy in Dallas and the American Academy of Excellence Charter School in Houston, have been notified by the TEA that they won’t be eligible to renew their charters.

Links:

Texas Education Agency
http://www.tea.state.tx.us

Michael and Susan Dell Foundation
http://www.msdf.org

Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
http://www.gatesfoundation.org/default.htm

Milken Family Foundation
http://www.mff.org