The State Board of Education won't be investing any money in properties to lease to charter schools, at least for now.
The board, meeting in committee Thursday, voted unanimously to adopt an asset allocation plan that sends no money toward the charter school proposal. The plan came from board member David Bradley, R-Beaumont, who pushed to allocate about $100 million from the Permanent School Fund to buy school properties, then lease them to charter schools. Earlier this week, board attorneys told members they risked running afoul of rules governing the investment of the fund — which require the board to invest solely in the interest of the fund — and that they risked inviting lawsuits. The attorneys advised the board's finance committee on Wednesday to get an attorney general's opinion on the proposal's legality before moving forward.
Before the vote on asset allocation, Board Chairwoman Gail Lowe, R-Lampasas, said she would request an attorney general's opinion on the proposal if the board voted to finance it. But even after the board voted the proposal down, Texas Education Agency Spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliff said Lowe still intended to request the opinion. Even if she does, and the AG approves the legality of the plan, it still appears likely to die politically. The AG's opinion could take several months, and newly elected board members — some of whom oppose the plan — will take office in January. In addition, it's far from clear that Bradley could muster a majority of current members, many of whom, including Lowe, have raised concerns.
On Thursday, board member Cynthia Dunbar, R-Richmond, moved to adopt a proposal to allocate half a percent of the $23 billion fund for the charter school proposal. She said it would "start the discussion" about charter schools' difficulty financing facilities to house their classrooms — a problem she said ultimately belongs to the legislature. If the board didn't include charter schools in its plan, she said, the legislature might not address the issue.
Dunbar's effort failed in a 7-7 vote, with board member Patricia Hardy, R-Weatherford, calling a target allocation level for charters "premature." Chairwoman Lowe, who typically sides with Bradley and a bloc of conservative members, voted against the measure.
Earlier today Bradley did some zig-zagging on his proposal, at first saying he would drop his proposal because too many questions were raised yesterday, then saying he would push for it after hearing of Lowe's willingness to ask the AG's opinion if the board allocated funds.
The board holds its general meeting tomorrow for a final vote.