Louisiana Record

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Appeals court ruling maintains state aid to charter schools

By Glenn Minnis | Feb 26, 2017

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BATON ROUGE — A 1st Circuit Court of Appeal judge has overturned a lower’s judge ruling in Louisiana that would have blocked state aid to 32 charter schools.

Not long after state Superintendent of Education John White conceded he planned to halt aid to all of the targeted schools following 19th Judicial District Court Judge Wilson Fields' decision, the higher court stepped in to issue a stay on the matter, removing the looming threat of an immediate interruption of state aid to all of those institutions.  

According to an article in The Advocate, all the legal machinations stem from a recent federal lawsuit filed by the Louisiana Association of Educators challenging the practice of state aid being funneled to certain charter schools. The plaintiffs charged that funding the schools through a formula meant to support local schools is a gross violation of the state constitution.

Meanwhile, critics of the lawsuit argued that if the judge’s ruling had been allowed to go into effect as mandated, the nearly three-dozen charter schools involved and more than 16,000 students could have faced major financial problems as early as next week that could have proven devastating.

“State funding is critical for preservation for these schools,” Sarah Vandergriff, Association of Educators' legal policy director, told the Louisiana Record. “This fight is over the allocation of state dollars, and the approximation is that comes to roughly about $70 million annually.”

The Type 2 charter schools targeted in the suit have only been in operation since 2008, and Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools Executive Director Caroline Roemer said that many of them would not have the reserves needed to withstand an action that took away much of their funding as blocking their state aid would have done.

The self-governed public schools operate independently of existing public school districts and receive funding from the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP).

By a narrow 3-2 vote, the courts previously ruled that money designated for the city school systems by MFP cannot be used to fund Type 2 schools. Immediately following that dramatic ruling, the states and the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools sought to have the verdict placed on hold, insisting that the ruling stood to cripple the entire system and drastically alter its landscape.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal ruling was a reversal of a 2015 lower court decision. Currently, all MFP-appropriated money is constitutionally mandated. Some have proposed the most practical solution available might lie in local lawmakers moving to strategically enact a line item appropriation allowing for the funding of Type 2 charter schools with state general fund dollars.

“The appellate court opinion said the charter schools don’t qualify for MPE funding and so they did not look intensely look at how funding works,” Vandergriff said. “We’ll being fighting every day for our students and the wonderful work we do at our institutions. We’ll confident we will rise to the occasion and find a way to persevere no matter what the decision ultimately proves to be."

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