North Texas charter school network leverages fiscal strength as state loan guarantees improve ratings

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Now worth an approximate $29 billion, Texas’ Permanent School Fund (PSF) is now available to the state’s charter schools that have earned an investment grade rating. As the State Board of Education releases new rules governing how access will work, Uplift Education is one of about a dozen charter networks in Texas that can leverage a pool of $800-900 million for charter loan guarantees this year.

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Finding affordable facilities is key to Uplift’s ability to expand and meet the needs of the thousands of families on our wait lists.

Now worth an approximate $29 billion, Texas’ Permanent School Fund (PSF) is now available to the state’s charter schools that have earned an investment grade rating. As the State Board of Education releases new rules governing how access will work, Uplift Education is one of about a dozen charter networks in Texas that can leverage a pool of $800 to $900 million for charter loan guarantees this year.

Uplift’s chief financial officer Bill Mays, addressing representatives from the financial community at the Bond Buyer’s Texas Public Finance Conference Feb. 4, said meeting the growing demand for educational options in North Texas is at the heart of the network’s financial strategy. Thanks to access to the PSF granted by the state legislature and the IRS, Uplift will be able to leverage Texas’ AAA credit rating to drive down rates, potentially saving the network millions as it expands its debt capitalization.

“Finding affordable facilities is key to Uplift’s ability to expand and meet the needs of the thousands of families on our waitlists who want to send their children to high-performing schools like ours,” Mr. Mays said.

Because the State does not provide funding to charters for their school buildings, Uplift must finance those facilities by going to the bond market.

“In our last bond sale, we were able to get a slightly more attractive interest rate purely from the strength of our financial position. Those savings could then be directed towards supporting instruction versus paying higher debt service cost,” he said.

Currently, Uplift’s bond debt is about $192 million. As the network expands to 37 schools and 13,000 students by 2017, Mr. Mays expects financed debt to expand to more than $250 million. He participated in the panel to help introduce the financial community to the opportunity now available in the charter sector. Uplift was the first charter to seek public financing in 2000, and as it has grown, its position has continued to improve.

The availability of bond financing does not offset the need for access to additional public funding though. According to Tracy Young, vice president of government and public affairs for the Texas Charter Schools Association, traditional ISDs receive on average $1,000 in facilities funding per students, while charters receive no dollars. Add to that the fact charter students do not receive equitable funding, and charters constantly find themselves in a position of having to do more with less.

“Texas Charters have grown by 14 percent in the last five to six years, representing more than three percent of the state’s enrolled students. Through the lawsuit, we’ll be looking to gain equitable funding and facilities funding. As difficult as it is for charters to find facilities, this is especially important right now,” Ms. Young said.

Yasmin Bhatia, Uplift’s CEO, said she finds the funding disadvantage an untenable position in which to be.

“Our scholars are making important academic gains as we introduce innovative teaching practices and support services like our Road to College program, all the while pursuing as much funding as we can find. We've had the wonderful support of our philanthropic friends in North Texas and national supporters, but we believe the playing field should be level in Texas. The funds should follow the children, and we are in favor of having broader options for facilities acquisition and expansion,” she said.

Ms. Bhatia also believes state officials should revisit its charter funding model. Currently, charter allocations are made monthly, where traditional ISDs receive a large percentage of their funds up-front, making it easier to acquire academic resources for their students.

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About Uplift Education
Uplift Education is a is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization operating a network of 28 tuition-free, college preparatory, public charter schools in Dallas, Fort Worth, Arlington and Irving on 13 campuses. Uplift Education schools provide a rigorous, multidisciplinary curriculum, with an emphasis on college preparation – 100% of graduates are accepted to college. Uplift Education educates 9,600 students, with the majority being low-income and minority students who will be the first in their family to attend college. Uplift schools are public schools -- students are selected by a blind lottery with no information collected on their past academic performance. For more information, visit uplifteducation.org or facebook.com/uplifteducation.

Media Contacts:

Mike Terry, Director of Communications
Uplift Education
mterry@uplifteducation.org
Direct 469-621-8545

Sara Ortega, Public Relations Coordinator
Uplift Education
sortega@uplifteducation.org
Direct 469-621-8498

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