Litigation Trial Update - Day 1 (January 28, 2013)


Yesterday was the first day of the charter school case-in-chief of the school finance litigation. In order to keep you informed as our presentation of the evidence unfolds this week, we are providing you with a summary of each day's events that take place in the courtroom. On our first day, the charter school plaintiffs presented 3 very compelling witnesses.


Denise Pierce, Vice President of Member Services and General Counsel of TCSA, kicked off her testimony as the first charter school witness to a packed courtroom full of charter school operators and parents showing their support for the case by attesting to the history of TCSA and TCSA's member-driven reasons for joining the lawsuit. Denise then moved on to testify about the technical and legal aspects of applying for, maintaining and operating a charter, highlighting for the court that contrary to the notion that charter schools are "free from many of the regulations of traditional public schools", charter schools are in fact, subject to many of the same regulations and requirements and that the cost of legal compliance to operate a charter school is not so different than that of a traditional district. Denise also reiterated what our school finance experts will testify to later in the week, that there is no dispute that charter schools do not receive facilities funding and that by using a statewide averaged adjusted allotment as the statute currently contemplates, a funding disparity is created between charters and traditional districts. Denise then closed her testimony addressing the irrational basis for the legislative cap on the number of charter schools, noting that there is no legislative history for this limitation, and that charter schools, as part of the public school system of the state, deserved equitable and constitutional funding.


Our second and third witnesses of the day, Brooks Flemister, parent of a student at Ser Niņos Academy Charter School in Houston, and Mark DiBella, Chief Financial Officer of YES Prep Public Schools in Houston, highlighted for the court the very real and personal impact the lack of adequate funding has on the students served by the charter schools of Texas. Mr. Flemister, in addition to discussing the experiences of his son at Ser Niņos Academy Charter School, discussed his prior experience working at the Texas Education Agency and the funding inequities he recognized in this role. Mr. DiBella emphasized to the court that the success of YES Prep is, in large part, due to the culture and dedication of the charter school staff. Mr. DiBella discussed the challenges of operating in facilities not suitable for a school and stressed to the court that his school works vigorously to account for the lack of adequate state funding by private fundraising and that without it, combined with the budget cuts of last year, the charter school's success would have been thwarted. Both witnesses did an excellent job highlighting the dire need for the state to provide adequate and equitable funding for charter schools to survive in a tough economic climate.  


Today, we will hear from Matt Abbott, Chief Executive Officer of Wayside Schools in Austin, and Mario Flores, a parent of a student at Eden Park Academy/Wayside Schools in Austin. We then dive into our experts on school finance who will challenge the state funding formula and the state's prior testimony that charter schools receive adequate funding for facilities.


We encourage you to continue to demonstrate your support by attending the trial as much as you can. As always, our witnesses and litigation team, Bob Schulman, Joe Hoffer and Leonard Schwartz of Schulman, Lopez and Hoffer LLP, appreciate the support and we believe that the presiding judge has been impressed by our showing, so it is essential to keep demonstrating that support. The case is being tried before the Honorable Judge John K. Dietz in the 250th District Court at the Travis County Courthouse in Austin.


Should you have any questions about this case, please do not hesitate to contact TCSA attorneys Denise Pierce or Lindsey Jones at 512-584-8272. Tracy Young, VP of Public and Government Affairs, can assist with any questions regarding responses to press/media calls.



Lindsey Jones, Director of Legal and Policy Services

Denise Pierce, General Counsel and Vice President of Member Services

Charter schools say their smaller share of state aid is unconstitutional
Judge to rule next week in sweeping school finance trial.
By Kate Alexander; January 28, 2013

For the first time in Texas' protracted legal wrangling over how to fund public education, charter schools Monday added their voices to the fray. Although charter schools are privately managed, they are still public schools and receive state aid. The lack of state money for classroom buildings and other facilities means charter schools are not getting their fair share, lawyers for charter school operators argued Monday during the ongoing school finance trial. About 200 charter operators run more than 500 campuses across the state, serving about 3 percent of Texas' public school students. Some of the more sophisticated charter operators rely on private donations and fund raising for a big chunk of their budgets. Denise Pierce, general counsel for the Texas Charter Schools Association, said the lack of dedicated money for charter school buildings and other facilities impedes their ability creates to provide the general diffusion of knowledge called for in the Texas Constitution. Read more.
Texas charter schools complain about state funds
The Associated Press; January 28, 2013
AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - An official representing charter schools in Texas says that a state ban on funding buildings and other facilities means that those schools must divert money away from students. Denise Pierce, the general counsel for the Texas Charter Schools Association, testified Monday in a lawsuit that more than 600 school districts brought against the state. School officials say lawmakers did not provide sufficient funding for public schools. Charter schools joined the lawsuit and complain that they only receive per-student funding. That means the schools must spend money out of their education program for facilities. Public school districts can raise money through bond propositions and some state support. Read more.  

Lindsey Jones
Director of Legal and Policy Services

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