DALLAS — Texas charter schools were left out of last week's court ruling that state school aid is insufficient, but supporters say their fight will continue.
Judge John Dietz ruled last week that state aid to local independent school districts was unconstitutionally insufficient, but said the Legislature had the discretion of deciding how to fund the open-enrollment charter schools or even whether to fund them at all.
The Texas Association of Charter Schools joined the lawsuit to obtain state funding for facilities used by the schools as part of its push for more equitable funding in the courts and the Legislature, said David Dunn, executive director of the association.
"We will keep pushing for this legislation," he said.
"We are disappointed that Judge Dietz ruled against charter school students and their parents, denying them constitutional protections," Dunn said.
Numerous court cases in Texas, including the recent one decided by Dietz, have determined that adequate facility funding is part of the constitutional mandate for a wide diffusion of knowledge in the state, Dunn said.
"When parents decide to put their kids into charter schools, they don't give up those constitutional protections," he said.
Charter schools must pay for their facilities out of their per-student stipend because the state does not fund facilities, Dunn added.
Public schools can fund school construction with proceeds from voter-approved general obligation bonds, but charters must finance facilities with revenue bonds backed by their annual state support, Dunn said.
Open-enrollment schools with a charter from the State Board of Education receive about $8,800 a year in state per-student aid, but it costs around $830 per child for school and classroom facilities.
"That's more than $800 per student per year that could go to textbooks or teacher salaries," he said.
If the lower court ruling results in more money for public education in Texas, charter schools will benefit in any case, according to Dunn.
"We're part of the system," he said. "If the state provides more on a per-student basis, then charter schools will benefit just like traditional district will."
The 2011 Legislature extended to charter schools the triple-A enhancement on district GO bonds provided by the Permanent School fund, but an Internal Revenue Service determination is needed before the coverage can be applied.
Three state lawmakers filed a request in December with the IRS and the Treasury Department to allow the extension to charter schools.
"We need that," Dunn said. "The triple-A rating would save money that could go to instruction."
The PSF enhancement would enable more charter schools to issue debt for facilities, said Kevin Holloran, a director in Standard & Poor's Dallas office.
"The coverage won't affect the underlying credit rating, but it is like bond insurance in the old days," he said. "The PSF guarantee will open the bond market to schools that now are shut out."
The charter school group also wants to increase the maximum number of school charters that can be issued by the state, Dunn said.
The current cap of 215 is not sufficient, he said.
"We're expecting legislation to be filed this week to raise that cap," Dunn said.
"There has been talk of 10 new charters a year," he said. "We don't think that is sufficient, but we will support any increase."
The measure limits the total amount of charter school debt eligible for the Permanent School Fund enhancement to 2% of the total $24.4 billion fund, which is equivalent to the percentage of Texas students in charter schools.
The charter schools must have an investment-grade credit rating to obtain the enhancement.