By the time he finished the fifth grade, Jose Emiliano Castelan heard the rumors of hallway fistfights and academic struggles at the East Austin middle school he was zoned to attend.
Jose and his mother, Angelica Ramirez, found an alternative nearby. A small charter school, Austin Achieve Public Schools, was opening less than a mile away from the middle school.
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Charter schools: A primer
A state-issued charter allows a private, nonprofit entity to run a school with state dollars, though a handful contract with for-profit management firms, a move that draws criticism from opponents. While the schools must meet academic accountability standards, the state exempts them from other requirements, such as teacher certification and class sizes, making way for more innovation.
Statewide, about 178,000 students, or 3.5 percent, attended more than 550 charter schools in 2013, with an additional 100,000 on waiting lists, according to the Texas Charter Schools Association.
Texas caps the number of charters at 225, although a charter operator can run more than one campus under a single charter. The state, which opened the doors to charter schools in 1995, has allowed for more charters per year and will increase the cap to 305 by 2019. The state has put in place tougher rules for poor-performing charters, with a new law requiring the Texas Education Agency to shut down charters for failing to meet academic or financial standards for three consecutive years; the charters can appeal the decision to the agency.