Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Charter schools sue for access to bond money

Charter schools sue for access to bond money


The Associated Press
AUSTIN -- Texas' largest charter school organization on Tuesday filed the sixth major lawsuit against the state about the way public education is financed, arguing that charter schools should have access to public money for facilities and that there should be no limit on the number of charter schools statewide.

The Texas Charter Schools Association teamed up with six parents from Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin to file a complaint in Travis County District Court. They say current rules violate state constitutional guarantees of a suitable and efficient education.

Charter schools receive state funding for operations and educate about 135,000 of the state's nearly 5 million public school students. But their number is capped at 215. About 56,000 students statewide are on waiting lists to attend existing charter schools.

State rules also prohibit charter schools from seeking taxpayer permission to issue bonds for school construction like traditional public schools. They are also not subject to state-imposed limits on class size for elementary school students, however, or minimum-pay requirements for teachers.

Organized in 2008, the Texas Charter Schools Association represents 178 charter schools with more than 110,000 students statewide. The organization's executive director, David Dunn, said the group commissioned a 2011 study showing that, partly because of state funding restrictions, charter schools spend an average of $830 per student -- or nearly a tenth of total per-pupil operational funding -- on facilities and infrastructure.

He said some charter schools in Texas have had to forgo science labs and gymnasiums.
"These are things that traditional schools take for granted," Dunn said.

Dunn said the organization has long lobbied state lawmakers to remove the charter-school cap and get rid of funding restrictions, and that the legal challenge merely seeks to supplement those efforts.
Four lawsuits on behalf of hundreds of school districts statewide have been filed in response to school finance legislation passed by the Legislature last summer. They say the way the state distributes funding to districts is inadequate and inequitable.

The Legislature approved $50.8 billion for public education for this past school year and next, but lawmakers rewrote the funding formula to cut $4 billion and eliminate $1.4 billion in grant programs, even though enrollment increases every year.

Legal disputes about Texas school finance have dragged on for decades. The current suits are the eighth round of litigation filed in response to new legislation in the state since 1968.

State District Judge John Dietz, who handled the last round of major school finance lawsuits in 2004, is set to hear this year's cases.

He consolidated the four latest major suits and set a tentative trial date of Oct. 22.
Dunn said his association expects the state to eventually consolidate its suit with the others and "we're certainly not going to fight it."

"But that way we would be at the table," Dunn said. "Our attorneys, on behalf of charter schools, would be a part of the case."

Read more here: http://www.star-telegram.com/2012/06/26/4061096/charter-schools-sue-for-access.html#storylink=cpy

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