Louisiana Record

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Supreme Court reverses decision in charter school-funding case

By Angela Underwood | Mar 23, 2018

Four Lousiana Supreme Court justices have reversed an opinion in a case against the state education system in a decision handed down March 13.

Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson and Justices James Genovese, Jefferson Hughes and John Weimer reversed an appellate court ruling that found Senate Concurrent Resolution 55 (SCR55), which apportions the Minimum Foundation Program (MFP) subsidy to New Type 2 charter schools, was unconstitutional.

SCR 55, passed in 2014, is a MFP funding formula adopted by the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) that “takes into consideration the number of students in each school district and the special characteristics of those students,” according to the ruling, adding when a school district is given MFP funding handed down from the state, separate charter schools are owed their fair share of funding pursuant to the Louisiana Constitution Article VIII.

Finding fault with the funding, Iberville Parish School Board (IPSB) and the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) filed injunctive and declaratory relief petitions against defendants BESE and the state of Louisiana through the Department of Education (Department), which were combined into one complaint.

“The plaintiffs asserted SCR 55 unconstitutionally allocated MFP funds that are constitutionally allocated to parish and city school systems to new charter schools outside the parish or city school system, i.e., New Type 2 charter schools,” according to the ruling.

After a district court ruled SCR55 was constitutional, an appellate court reversed the decision, leaving the matter before the Supreme Court for reconsideration. 

Beginning with constitutional interpretation principles, authoring judge Genovese cited several cases to state that “there is a presumption that legislative instruments are constitutional; therefore, the party challenging its validity has the burden of proving its unconstitutionality,” according to the ruling, further adding, “In order to hold legislation invalid under the constitution, it is necessary to rely on some particular constitutional provision that limits the power of the legislature.”

Then Genovese moved onto the diversion of MFP funds, noting  BESE and the department’s argument that Article VIII does not require a specific allocation of MFP funding.

“The defendants argue that while the court of appeal’s judgment specifically applies to only one category of schools, i.e., New Type 2 charter schools, its rationale would cut off state funding to all public schools that are not under the jurisdiction of a parish or city school board,” Genovese wrote in the order, further adding the higher court agrees.

“We agree with defendants’ contention that affirming the court of appeal’s rationale, i.e., denying MFP funding because the school is not under the jurisdiction of a parish or city school board, could potentially have adverse consequences to other charter schools, not just New Type 2 charter schools,” Genovese wrote in the order.

Next, Genovese discussed local cost allocation, again disagreeing with the plaintiffs IPSB and LAE.

“In this case, the plaintiffs’ view is that local taxes are being used to improve privately-owned facilities to which the public has no title or interest,” Genovese wrote in the order. “This is a mischaracterization. Akin to the funding mechanism in City of New Orleans, local revenue is considered in the allotment of MFP funds to public schools.”

Johnson and Hughes dissented in the opinion, while Weimer concurred with Genovese.

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