Louisiana Record

Monday, October 14, 2019

Battle for charter schools heading to Louisiana's Supreme Court

By Chandra Lye | Feb 5, 2017

BATON ROUGE — The legal battle over the financing of charter schools will soon be in the hands of the Louisiana Supreme Court.

Following a stay by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal, charter schools will continue to receive public funding. However, the vice president of education and workforce development of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry said that could be changed depending on the decision of the state Supreme Court.

“Should the plaintiffs prevail at the Supreme Court, that will require the state to find an outside the MFP source of funding,” Brigitte Nieland told the Louisiana Record.

At the moment, the state Supreme Court is set to decide whether or not to hear the case.

“Then depending upon what the court’s ruling is nothing will change, and they will still be funded through the MFP the way they have been or if the ruling goes with the plaintiffs that would force outside line item appropriation for next year,” Nieland said. “So, that would have to come up in this year’s legislative session.”

It is a constant battle for charter schools, Nieland said.

“They just don’t think that charter schools ought to exist, and that any school system should have to compete for students and dollars,” Nieland said.

The plaintiffs are alleging “that charter schools are not systems and the constitution, which was written before the advent of charter schools, refers to school systems,” she said. Nieland defended charter schools by saying they are public schools in every sense of the word.

“Yet because they are not technically a system, they shouldn’t have the right to have the same funding as other public schools,” Nieland said. “Even though they have to meet all the same criteria regarding testing and everything else. It is just the latest attack.”

She said the Louisiana Association of Educators and the other plaintiffs are seeking to shut down any competition for public-funding dollars.

“I think their ultimate design would be to eliminate the legal possibility of having charter schools because they only see it as competition for dollars,” Nieland said. “They don’t see it in the terms of what it is doing for education and families.”

However, Debbie Meaux, president of the LAE, told the Louisiana Record in an email interview that the case was about the constitutionality of the funding dispersement of the MFP. She also said the public schools would be open to receiving all charter-school students if they could not longer operate.

“Public schools will of course receive every child that comes to their doors,” Meaux said. “We always have and will continue to do so.”

In the complaint, which was originally filed in 2014, the plaintiff’s lawyers argued that funding Type 2 charter schools from the Minimum Foundation Program violated the state’s Constitution, which required MFP funds to be given to parish and city schools.

“The result in this case was largely foreshadowed by the Louisiana Supreme Court’s 2013 decision that voucher schools could not be funded through the MFP,” Brian Blackwell, the lead attorney for the LAE, was quoted in a press release. “MFP dollars are clearly restricted to city and parish school systems/ Type 2 charter schools simply are not city and parish school systems.”

There are 35 Type 2 charter schools in the state and, according to the LAE, they received $80 million from the MFP.

“It’s time to correct the unconstitutional diversion of funds (both state and local) so that no child’s education will be impeded,” Meaux said in the press release. “We look forward to a swift and final resolution to this issue so that our public-school educators can continue to focus on increasing student success and moving our public schools forward.”

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