Dallas ISD Pushes Back on Charter School's Move to Paul Quinn College

Dallas ISD trustee Maxie Johnson speaks at a press conference Tuesday morning.EXPAND
Dallas ISD trustee Maxie Johnson speaks at a press conference Tuesday morning.
Silas Allen
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Dallas ISD officials are pushing back on a charter school's plan to move its Oak Cliff campus to Paul Quinn College.

Officials at KIPP Oak Cliff Academy plan to move the high school, which is operating in a shopping center in Oak Cliff, to the college campus in the spring of 2021.

At a news conference Tuesday morning in front of the college, Dallas ISD trustee Maxie Johnson said the network was trying to "bully" its way into Oak Cliff without meeting with members of the community to discuss their plans. Johnson, whose district covers a large swathe of southern and western Dallas, said his constituents have told him they don't want the campus in their neighborhood. He argued that Dallas ISD schools in the area outperform nearby KIPP schools.

"We do not need any more failing institutions coming into our area," Johnson said.

Johnson pointed to major investments the district has made in southern Dallas, including renovations and upgraded academic programs at South Oak Cliff, Wilmer-Hutchins, David W. Carter and Roosevelt high schools. He also touted the district's B rating in the 2019 Texas Education Agency accountability reports, saying there's no need for a charter high school in Oak Cliff.

Dallas ISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said the district's facilities still aren't in the shape he'd like. But he said he expects the upcoming bond issue to help. He also pointed to industry partnerships in schools in southern Dallas as a major selling point for Dallas ISD. Through those partnerships, corporations offer students mentoring, networking opportunities and internships.

District officials hope parents in Dallas ISD will choose to send their children to their neighborhood schools, Hinojosa said. But if not, he wants them to choose Dallas ISD schools over charters.

"We're not afraid of competition," he said.

Charter schools are publicly funded, privately operated schools. Like their traditional counterparts, charter schools receive money from the state based on their enrollment. KIPP, an abbreviation for Knowledge is Power Program, is the largest network of public charter schools in the nation. The network operates seven schools in the DFW area.

KIPP Oak Cliff Academy received a D rating in the 2019 Texas Education Agency accountability reports. By comparison, the nearest DISD high school, South Oak Cliff, received a C rating.

But the two schools had comparable scores in a few key areas. At both schools, 35% of students performed at grade level or better in all subjects. KIPP students outperformed South Oak Cliff students in reading, but South Oak Cliff students fared better than KIPP students in math.

Anthony Smith, KIPP Texas' regional superintendent for Dallas-Fort Worth, said neither KIPP nor Dallas ISD should settle for only 35% of students performing on grade level or better. Particularly at a time when school shutdowns are putting students' academic outlooks in jeopardy, Smith said, officials in traditional school districts and charter schools should work together to figure out how best to serve their students.

Smith pushed back on Johnson's assertion that KIPP was trying to bully its way into Oak Cliff without community support. KIPP has long had a presence in southern Dallas, he said. The network's presence in the DFW area began 17 years ago in a basement at Paul Quinn College, he said. Smith also said officials spoke with Johnson when they settled on Paul Quinn College as a possible site.

He acknowledged that charter schools have a financial impact on traditional school districts, but he argued the fault is not with the charter schools themselves, but rather with state lawmakers who have failed to fund public education adequately.

"What we're doing is fighting for peanuts," he said.

Michael Sorrell, president of Paul Quinn College, said the reason the college opted to partner with KIPP rather than Dallas ISD was simple — KIPP made an offer when Dallas ISD didn't.

"We danced with the partner who asked us to dance," he said.

Having younger students going to school on a college campus has some major benefits, Sorrell said. Those students will likely have an easier time imagining themselves in a college setting if they've already gone to high school there, he said. It also improves ties between the college and the surrounding community.

Partnering with KIPP for this project also made sense because it's a partnership that already existed, Sorrell said. KIPP already has a presence in Oak Cliff. It's had a presence at the college since the charter school began in Dallas. Paul Quinn actively recruits the network's students, and in most cases, KIPP graduates have gone on to be successful at Paul Quinn, he said.

"We're sensitive to the idea of what it may look like if you bring in people from the outside," he said. "But this isn't that. This is an entity that is already here."

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