For Immediate Release:2014-02-03
Press Contact: David Dunn
Press Contact: David Dunn
Outlook: Opinion Editorial by David Dunn and Mike Feinberg in the Houston ChronicleThe topic of school finance is back in the pages of this paper with last month's start of Round Two of the school finance trial after a yearlong delay.
During the break in legal action, the Texas Legislature restored $3.4 billion in funding for public education while altering the graduation and testing requirements for high school students.
State District Judge John Dietz has asked litigants to explain how these changes affect the school finance system before he issues a ruling. His decision, no matter what it is, will likely be appealed to the state Supreme Court before this matter is settled. If you think all of this sounds familiar, it should. School districts have sued the state over the fairness of the school finance system about once a decade for the past 40 years.
When most people think of funding for public education, chances are they don't think about funding for public charter schools. That is what makes this school finance trial different from the others. This time, charter school families also are seeking relief and equity.
More than 178,000 families in Texas have chosen public charters as the school solution for their students, but they didn't know this choice came with built-in unfairness. Charter schools - Texas has 550 open-enrollment, public charter schools - receive no state funding for facilities, and that means these public school students receive less than their peers. Is it because charter students are worth less than other public school students? No, and the state court should say so loudly and clearly.
The complex school funding formulas in Texas apply "weights," which function essentially to distribute funding based upon individual student needs, such as for economically disadvantaged or special education students.
School districts and charters both receive funding based on individual student needs. The funding formulas also adjust funding based on school district characteristics, such as size or location in a rural or urban area. Charters do not receive this adjustment, but are given a statewide average instead.
The formulas may be complex, but the math is simple. In 2013, the Houston Independent School District received $5,266 per weighted student and an additional $637 per weighted student for facilities funds - bringing the total to $5,903. In contrast, an open-enrollment charter school in Houston received only $5,231, with no state assistance for facilities funding. Nearby, Alief Independent School District received $5,706 per weighted student and an additional $495 for facilities funds - bringing the total to $6,201.
An open-enrollment charter school in Alief, meanwhile, received only $5,231 per weighted student, with no additional state dollars for facilities funding. That is almost a $1,000 gap.
When you account for both state and local tax contributions to public education, the funding gap between traditional school districts and public charter schools is clear. This is why public charter schools and charter school families joined the school finance lawsuit, to ask the basic question: Is it fair for our students to receive less funding than every other student in public education?
A decade ago, the court had not even considered the impact of public school choice. Today, 100,000 students are on waiting lists to get into public charter schools, even though we've added nearly 30,000 additional seats this school year. The demand for public charters is strong and growing.
The court can no longer afford to ignore the unfairness built into the current system. Neither can our students and families.
Dunn is executive director of the Texas Charter Schools Association. Feinberg is cofounder of KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Public Charter Schools.