Lakewood Church May Open a Charter School

Joel Osteen's Lakewood Church is developing a proposal to start a charter school for autistic children that would open in the fall of 2011.

Nancy Manley, executive principal in the Houston ISD's charter and alternative schools office, mentioned Lakewood's plans during her address to the Senate Education Committee's charter hearing earlier this week.

Once Lakewood's proposal is finalized and presented to Manley's group for review, if it is deemed a viable project, she'll send it on to the HISD board of trustees for review and possible approval. Manley says once a proposal is granted schools will usually hire their principal and begin organizing staff. Right now the district has 16 external charter schools. The teachers in those schools are not HISD employees, but the schools are overseen by HISD's charter and alternative schools office.

Asked why a public school district would want to work with outside groups to establish schools, Manley said it was "to give choice to parents... A lot of our charter schools are small and a lot of our parents like that. They can easily talk to the teachers."

The schools still have to meet state standards and may have their charters revoked if they don't meet standards on the state's Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) tests for two years in a row, she said.

Lakewood, as other faith-based organizations do, would be applying on the basis of its 501(c)3 non profit status, Manley said. "The organization is faith-based but the school itself cannot be parochial or faith-based. It has to follow the guidelines on the separation of church and state."

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