IDEA Public Schools files lawsuit in Travis County challenging decision
Texas AG rules in favor of Advance News
Two weeks ago, it seemed as if The Advance News Journal would finally get its news-story hands on what it’s been in search of for the better part of this summer: The answer to the question, why is one of the country’s largest charter school operators, IDEA Public School, trying to shield from the public the reason behinds its formation of two LLCs (Limited Liability Companies)?
The Advance News Journal
submitted a Public Information Request this past June to IDEA seeking any and all information about the charter school operator’s move into limited liability (LLC) territory, but ran into a brick wall, which came in the form of letter drafted by its San Antonio-based law firm.
That early June letter stated that IDEA would comply with this newspaper’s request but wanted to redact certain information tied to the formation of the two LLCs in question: IDEA Public Schools USA LLC, and IPS Enterprises LLC.
We wrote back asking IDEA’s law firm to please submit our PIR to the AG as written, and let the AG attorneys decide if indeed the information we were seeking was or was not public information subject to release.
Two months later (August), The Advance received a copy of the reply that the AG had sent to IDEA, which basically said, the charter school operator had to turn over the info tied to the LLCs, save the part (correspondence between it and its legal representatives), which was covered under attorney-client privilege.
The reasoning, as so stated by the Texas AG’s letter: IDEA is an open-enrollment charter school (which runs, in large part, off of taxpayer money), and is therefore subject to the Education Code, which affords the public the right to know how its tax dollars are being spent, and for what.
Two weeks later, The Advance received a certified letter from IDEA’s legal representative (reproduced on page one), informing us that it was suing the Texas AG in Travis County, challenging the state office’s determination that IDEA must turn over to this newspaper what it had requested. Namely, documents tied to the formation of the two LLCs, one of which has listed with the Texas Secretary of State, members who include local developer Mike Rhodes; Austin-based Business Entrepreneur Rex Gore; and the Houston-based law firm of Andrews Kurth, whose most famous client (call it trivia), perhaps, was Howard Hughes.
The letter read that The Advance has the right to intervene in the lawsuit if we so wish.
Turns out, we do wish, and are already in discussions with a well-known Austin-based law firm well versed in state law related to public information requests. It’s out-of-pocket money, but, too often, there have been stories such as this, in which these types of lawsuits collect dust in a Travis County court simply because no one is pushing to get it moved up the docket.
IDEA Public Schools is based in Weslaco and has 61 schools now open across Texas, serving approximately 36,000 students (with a new one planned for Baton Rouge, La.). Its expansion plans are relatively massive, with future charter schools planned in 11 more states.
Many charters are listed as non-profits such as IDEA, while some are listed as for-profits. Some of the non-profits hand off operation of the schools to for-profit management companies. Don’t know if that for-profit motive has anything to do with the creation of the two new LLCs. If The Advance and the Texas AG prove unsuccessful in battling IDEA’s lawsuit, the public may never know, despite taxpayer dollars used to keep the charter school operator’s operations up and running.
While some charter schools, such as Vanguard, based in Pharr, choose to remain relatively small, that has not proven to be the case with IDEA. It’s moving and shaking, of that there is no doubt. Question remains, however, why should the formation of two LLCs be considered so proprietary that the charter school operator is willing to spend money with a law firm to sue the Texas Attorney General?
Here is what The Advance is requesting, aside from any and all info covered by attorney-client privilege:
1) Any and all documents related to the formation of IDEA Public Schools USA LLC. These should include any and all memos and/or abstracts of discussion made during the entity’s pre-formation period. These should also include all of the related documents filed with the Texas Secretary of State.
2) Any and all documents related to the formation of IPS Enterprises LLC. These should include any and all memos and/or abstracts of discussion made during the entity’s pre-formation period. These should also include all of the related documents filed with the Texas Secretary of State
3) Any and all emails that contain subject matter related to IDEA Public Schools USA LLC and IPS Enterprises LLC, their creation and the reasoning behind it. These should include any and all documents related to the organizational or business purpose of both entities, including their proposed formal operational plans and budgets.