Update: The Texas Education Commission granted a charter school license to the Magnolia Montessori school, which means Austin will have its first public Montessori school option next academic year on the city's east side. The Montessori school plans to open a second charter school in San Antonio in 2016.
Commissioner Michael Williams announced his decision to grant four charter school licenses Friday. They include three other schools outside of Austin, including Carpe Diem Schools, El Paso Leadership Academy and Great Hearts Academies Dallas.
A dozen charter school applicants were interviewed publicly by the State Board of Education in September. Three other charter applicants, Excel Center, Great Hearts Academy and Urban Lyceum interviewed schools in Austin, but were not granted licenses.
Currently, there are 20 private Montessori schools in Austin. It subscribes to a method of teaching that emphasizes hands on, individualized learning among students. The school is working with the non-profit, United Way, and says it has raised more than $450,000 to open its doors by next year. The school plans to serve kindergarten through seventh grades by its fifth year.
The expansion of charter school licenses in Texas is a result of the most recent legislative session, when lawmakers approved a charter school expansion bill. The bill allows the Commissioner to grant the charter school licenses, but allows the State Board of Education to veto his decision.
The State Board of Education is expected to discuss the commissioner's decision at its November 22 meeting.
Original Story (July 24): The first Austin public school to use the Montessori education program is hoping to open its doors in the fall of 2014.
There’s some concern that the changes under the Charter School Expansion bill passed by Texas lawmakers could push back the opening. But school leaders are hoping a recently received $100,000 national grant from the Next Generation Learning Challenges group will keep them on track to open as scheduled.
The grant will allow the Montessori for All school to plan its school model. The group is waiting to see if it’s granted an open enrollment charter license by the Texas Education Agency. Founder Sara Cotner says there are a lot of upfront costs.
“We won’t receive any federal or state funding until we actually enroll students in our school. There’s a significant start-up period that we’ve had to do fundraising to cover."
Under the charter school expansion bill, the process to get a charter school license has changed – now the state Education Commissioner approves charter licenses instead of the State Board of Education. Cotner says that could mean a longer wait to find out if they’re granted a license. If they are approved, she says the grant will ensure they’re on track to open in the fall of 2014.
“We’ve been working on this for years,” she says. “2014 feels like it can’t come soon enough. We just want to have everything in place so hopefully when the charter comes through we can hit the ground running."
The Montessori School program is an alternative education method that emphasizes independent, self-directed learning. There are 20 Montessori schools in Austin already, but all of them are private.
“Many of them are expensive and cost prohibitive for a lot of families,” Cotner says.
“And that why we wanted to create a public option that’s open to all families regardless of their income.”
The school plans to first recruit students from Austin's Eastside. It will open with three-year-olds to third graders, and ultimately expand to eighth grade.