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School finance lawsuit #6

And then there were six.

The Texas Charter School Association announced Tuesday that it would enter the legal fray, arguing that the state has short-changed charter schools because it does not provide funding for facilities.

“Just because a parent puts his or her students in a charter school doesn’t mean that they deserve that funding any less,” said David Dunn, the association’s executive director. “It’s a pretty simple argument: They get billions, we get zero.”

Along with TCSA, which represents most of the charter schools in the state, there are six parents of children in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and South Texas charters who are plaintiffs in the suit. Former Texas Solicitor General James Ho is also serving as a legal consultant.

Traditional public school districts primarily pay for facilities through bonds levied with local tax dollars. But they also receive some state assistance in meeting bond payments through two state programs passed in 1997 and 1999. Because charters do not have a local tax base or have access to state aid for facilities funding, they must dip into money allocated for instruction at a rate that Dunn said amounted to about $830 a student.

“That $830 a kid is significant. That is $830 a kid that could go to more teachers, smaller class sizes, higher teacher pay, instructional materials,” he said.

In the court filing, the group argues that a finance system that denies facilities funding to charters is not efficient, and therefore violates the Texas Constitution. The lawsuit also attacks the “arbitrary” limit of 215 charter contracts that the state may grant for the same reason. A spokeswoman said that the Texas Education Agency had not yet received the suit, but that it was not commenting on school finance litigation.

See here and here for some background on the facilities issue. This is different than the TREE lawsuit. It’s not really clear to me that what the charters are litigating over is actually litigation-worthy, but I’m not a lawyer, so don’t take my word for it. For what it’s worth, the public school plaintiffs seem to be okay with the charters’ involvement.

Houston attorney David Thompson said the charters’ lawsuit helps support his case, filed on behalf of the state’s largest school districts.

“If our good charters – which already have fewer mandates than our traditional public schools – are struggling with funding, then we think that supports our case that the public school funding system generally is adequate,” he said.

October is going to be a very busy month.

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