The flow of state money to 33 charter schools authorized by Louisiana’s education board will continue, a Baton Rouge judge decided Friday, but a teachers’ union and the Iberville Parish school system will get another chance to stop it in December.
The union and school system contend the use of the state money at the charter schools is unconstitutional.
State District Judge Wilson Fields said the Louisiana Association of Educators and the Iberville Parish School Board failed to show they’ve been irreparably harmed by state aid going to some charter schools.
Without ruling on the merits of either lawsuit, Fields — a former state lawmaker — denied requests by the LAE and School Board for preliminary injunctions against the Louisiana Department of Education and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Fields, however, scheduled a Dec. 5 trial on the LAE’s and Iberville system’s requests for permanent injunctions against the state.
The Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools hailed the judge’s ruling as “a significant, but ultimately small victory.”
“The Court today acted in the best interest of public education,” Caroline Roemer Shirley, the association’s director, said in a prepared statement. “We have protected 33 charters and their funding for now, but the attack on the 13,000 Louisiana children who attend those schools and their right to attend the public school of their choice is far from over.”
LAE attorney Brian Blackwell declined comment outside Fields’ courtroom, but Iberville School Superintendent Edward Cancienne, who testified at Friday’s hearing, said afterward the school system is being injured by money being diverted from the system to charter schools.
“We feel that there is irreparable harm being cast on our school system,” he said, referring back to his testimony that the $4 million transferred from the Iberville system to charter schools could result in the termination of more than 50 teachers.
“We’re trying to stop a transfer of our funds,” Iberville School Board attorney Mike Fontham argued Friday to Fields. “They’re taking our money and giving it to the charter schools.”
Department of Education attorney Jay O’Brien countered that argument by telling the judge, “These are all public school children.”
The LAE suit claims the state improperly spends $60 million a year for two types of charter schools that are not entitled to the state aid from Louisiana’s Minimum Foundation Program, but the state counters that charter schools are public schools entitled to the assistance.
The Iberville suit alleges that $4 million in state aid was unfairly diverted from the Iberville school system to a newly opened charter school in Plaquemine called Iberville Charter Academy and another charter school in Baton Rouge named South Baton Rouge Charter Academy.
The $3.6 billion MFP is the key source of state aid for public schools. The formula is created by BESE and approved by the Legislature.
The LAE contends that BESE-authorized charter schools, and those approved by local groups, don’t qualify as “city and parish school systems” that the state constitution requires get MFP funds.
Charter schools are public schools run by nongovernmental boards. They operate without much of the red tape associated with traditional public schools.
Nearly 59,000 students attend 117 charter schools statewide, according to a recent report by the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.
Of the 33 charter schools approved by BESE that get aid through the MFP, seven are in East Baton Rouge Parish, six in Orleans Parish, three in Lafayette Parish and two in Jefferson Parish
The tally includes the Louisiana Key Academy, Louisiana Connections Academy and Louisiana Virtual Charter Academy, all in Baton Rouge; and International School of Louisiana, Lycee Francais de la Nouvelle Orleans and the MAX Charter School, all in New Orleans.