As reported on Statesman.com, Texas charter school advocates opened up a new front in the school finance battle with a lawsuit claiming that disparities in funding and a cap on the number of new charter schools violate the state constitution.
The lawsuit, filed in Travis County, is separate from the public school finance litigation brought by hundreds of traditional school districts as well as some charter school supporters. However, lawyers expect that it will be combined into the larger case because it relates to the same constitutional issues. The larger case is set for trial in October.
The school finance system “has never been viewed by the courts through the lens of charter schools. We think it’s high time that it is done,” said David Dunn, executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association.
As privately managed public schools, charter schools receive state dollars for each student. The state, however, does not provide extra money for charter schools to pay for buildings and classrooms. Traditional school districts primarily rely on voter-approved bonds backed by property taxes to pay for facilities. The difference amounts to about $1,000 per student, Dunn said.
Lawyer Robert Schulman, who is representing the charter school parents and advocates who are suing, said Texas courts have determined that there are two essential elements of public school funding: operations and facilities. “What could be a more stark example of a denial of a necessary component than zero facility funding – intentional zero facility funding – for the charter schools?” Schulman said.
The other main legal claim is that the current limit of 215 charters in Texas is arbitrary and runs afoul of the state constitution. Only 10 charters are available and will probably be handed out this fall by the State Board of Education, but more than 56,000 students are on various waiting lists at the 500 charter campuses in Texas, according to the court filing.
“There may have been some rationale for that (cap) decision at that time. There is no rationale for it today, especially when charter schools are demonstrating the very kind of efficiency that the case law has called for all through these 22 years of litigation,” Schulman said.
Last year, a bill that would have raised the cap passed the Texas Senate but did not clear the House of Representatives.
Texans for Real Efficiency and Equity in Education, the charter group that is already involved in the bigger school finance litigation, argued in its court filings that “more money may or may not be required for an efficient system of public free schools.” But the Texas Charter Schools Association and other plaintiffs made clear in the lawsuit that money is an issue and said they are being “shortchanged” by not receiving money for facilities.
In the main school finance case, school districts maintain that the state has failed to provide adequate funding to ensure that students can meet higher academic standards. David Thompson, a lawyer representing the broadest group of districts in the school finance litigation, said he would not object to the addition of the new charter school plaintiffs in the larger case. Indeed, if the high-quality charter schools are “having problems meeting the greatly rising standards from a funding standpoint, I think that makes our case,” Thompson said.
While receiving state dollars, charter schools are freed from many state mandates, such as teacher contract rules. That freedom, supporters say, allows them to provide new ways to help students succeed.
Source: Statesman.com, 6/26/12, By: Kate Alexander
[Editor's Note: One of the greatest concerns for a local school district is diversion of public funds earmarked for the district to charter schools. The state of Texas is currently the target of multiple other lawsuits that claim the school finance plan approved by the state legislature is not equitable in how it distributes funding to school districts. In February 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article from Education Week about funding challenges and lawsuits Texas is currently facing.]