The state board of education in Texas turned down an application from Great Hearts Academy to open a charter school in Dallas. Great Hearts had already been approved by the state commissioner. The Arizona-based chain already has approval to open a charter in San Antonio. The state board expressed concern about the chain’s commitment and ability to serve low-income students.

The article in the Texas Tribune says:

But since the board’s approval of Great Hearts’ initial Texas campus [in San Antonio], doubts about its model have grown. While tuition-free like a traditional public school, it does not provide transportation to its campuses and charges fees for uniforms, field trips, extracurricular activities and athletics. Parents are also encouraged to assist the schools financially through personal donations.
Critics have pointed to the disproportionately white and affluent student body of Great Hearts’ 16 campuses in the Phoenix area as evidence that those practices keep low-income students out of the school. In a city where nearly 60 percent of public school students are Hispanic or black, 69 percent of the nearly 7,000 students are white. Only two of Great Hearts’ Arizona campuses participate in a federal program that offers free and reduced-price meals for low-income students.

Charters are big business in Texas. In San Antonio, civic leaders and philanthropists have put together a fund to open enough charters to accommodate 80,000 students–or more than 20%– in the public school system. Up until now, Texas has been open territory for charter growth. If experience serves as a guide, these schools will serve disproportionately small numbers of students with disabilities and English language learners. KIPP in Houston has received many millions to increase its campuses there. There are charters run by a tennis star, a football star, and a basketball star.

Great Hearts Academy, you may recall, was rejected four times by the Metro Nashville board of education. Tennessee Commissioner Kevin Huffman punished the district–which had similar concerns about GHA’s ability to serve a diverse enrollment–by withholding $3.4 million in state funds. The board worried that its plan would create the equivalent of a publicly funded private school for affluent white students in Nashville.

A year ago, an investigative reporter in Arizona raised questions about conflicts of interest in the business practices of Great Hearts Academy.