DALLAS – The Texas Charter School Association filed suit Tuesday in a Travis County district court contending that the lack of facilities funding for the state chartered open-enrollment schools violates the Texas Constitution.
The case is the sixth suit filed against the funding formula since the 2011 Legislature cut public aid to education by $5.4 billion in fiscal 2012 and 2013.
It is expected to be consolidated with the other five in a trial set to begin Oct. 22 in Judge John Dietz’s 200th State District Court.
The petition filed by the charter school group and six parents with children attending public schools contends that the funding formula does not meet the constitutional standard of an efficient education system.
The state provides a per-student stipend to charter school for operational and instructional costs, said David Dunn, the association’s executive director, but the schools receive no state money for facilities.
Charter schools need facilities funding from the state because they do not have a tax base and cannot ask voters to approve general obligation bonds to finance school buildings, Dunn said.
“We get zero for facilities,” he said.
Charter schools receive about $8,800 a year in state per-student aid, but it costs charter schools approximately $830 per child for school and classroom facilities, which public schools can finance through general obligation bonds.
“That’s 10% of the state money that charter schools get, and they have to pay for everything from it -- salaries, buildings, and books,” Dunn said.
As a result, he said, many charter schools cannot afford science lab classrooms or higher teacher salaries.
“It is hard to achieve the kind of educational efficiency envisioned by our constitution with the facility funding of zero for students enrolled in public charter schools,” Dunn said.
"We think that charter school students deserve and have the constitutional right to funds to provide the buildings in which their education is provided," he said.
A law passed late in the 2011 legislative session provides Triple-A enhancement for charter school bonds from the Permanent School Fund, which backs local district debt.
The charter schools must have an investment-grade credit rating to obtain the enhancement.
The state is currently awaiting a ruling from the IRS before it can institute the coverage program.
“The PSF guarantee would credit significant savings for those eligible charters that want to bond new schools,” Dunn said. “It would absolutely benefit facilities planning.”
The measure limits the total amount of charter school debt eligible for the PSF enhancement to 2% of the total $24.4 billion fund, which is equivalent to the percentage of Texas students in charter schools.
The charter school group’s suit is being financed with a $425,000 grant from the Walton Foundation and a $2-per student assessment on member schools.
The court is also asked to declare as arbitrary and unconstitutional the legislative cap of 215 school charters that can be granted by the State Board of Education. There are only 10 available charters remaining, which will probably be awarded by the end of this year.
The 480 charter campuses have an enrollment of 133,000, out of a total public school student population of some 5 million, said Robert Schulman, lead trial counsel for Texas Charter Schools Association and a partner at Schulman, Lopez and Hoffer LLP.
"These students are Texas public school students who deserve facilities funding under the Texas Constitution," he said.
A waiting list of more than 56,000 students for openings in charter schools is evidence that the 215-charter limit is outdated and arbitrary, Schulman said