A proposed speech-and-debate-focused charter school is a moot point for the State Board of Education.

The board voted 13-1 on June 23 to not allow the Village Speech and Debate Academy to open. Members expressed concerns about the proposed school not aligning its instructional materials to state law and questioned whether south Fort Worth needed another charter school.

Chaneka Rich, the proposed superintendent of the charter school, respects the board’s decision. However, she plans to find out from the State Board of Education and the Texas Education Agency how she can improve the Village Speech and Debate Academy in case her board decides to try again in 2024.

“We’re greatly appreciative for the opportunity to even have gotten this far on our first try,” Rich told the Fort Worth Report. “We look forward to continuing to work with the community to see how we can support them, even though it may not be in service as a school for the 2024-25 school year.”

Rich and Alan Anderson, the proposed chairman of the Village’s board of directors, answered the State Board of Education’s questions about the charter on June 21. 

Board member Pat Hardy, R-Fort Worth, questioned whether the 76104 needed another charter school because Rocketship Public Schools launched two years ago in the nearby Stop Six community. In 2022, the State Board of Education also narrowly approved the Academy of Visual and Performing Arts for the same ZIP code; the school is expected to open in August.

“There are charter schools that are new and doing a good job, but they’re not fully populated,” Hardy said, referring to Rocketship, which will launch its second campus in August. “That in of itself bothers me because we need to make sure they’re up and running before we open other opportunities.”

Rich told Hardy it was her intention that the Village was not set up in Stop Six because of Rocketship and emphasized her proposed charter would primarily serve the Historic Southside.

Board member Aicha Davis, a Dallas Democrat who represents Fort Worth with Hardy, questioned whether the school was different enough from the speech and debate offerings in Fort Worth ISD, one of three districts from which the Village would have sought students.

The biggest difference between the proposed charter school and Fort Worth ISD was the approach to speech and debate, Rich said. Her school would have embedded speech and debate into all lessons, while Fort Worth ISD has students participate in it as part of an extracurricular.

Davis and board member Aaron Kinsey, R-Midland, raised concerns about the school’s connections to diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. 

Kinsey researched the Village’s board members and found several worked for companies committed to diversity and inclusion efforts. He asked how the school would reconcile that at a time when the Legislature just banned those initiatives from public colleges and universities.

Anderson emphasized board members would keep their lives outside of the proposed school separate from the charter’s business and the school would follow the state’s laws on diversity, equity and inclusion. 

Davis pointed to the Village’s application, stating the school would be modeled after the Boston Debate League, an organization that says it uses anti-racist curriculum. The proposed charter school could not use those lessons because they are against a 2021 state law that places limits on what can be taught in social studies, the Dallas Democrat said.

The Village would only use debate structure from the Boston Debate League, and administrators would change everything to ensure the lessons aligned with Texas law and values, Rich said.

“We are a Texas school, and we are going to follow Texas law,” Rich said.

The Village Speech and Debate Academy was the only charter school the state board did not approve. Four others were approved, including two that were initially recommended for disapproval.

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University....