Louisiana’s legislatively approved aid formula for public schools funds school districts equitably, not equally, but treats students in traditional public schools and charter schools the same, the president of the state board that creates the annual formula testified Wednesday.
“It would be unequitable for us not to,” Chas Roemer, president of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, said in response to questions from state District Judge Wilson Fields concerning how traditional public school and charter school students are treated.
Fields is being asked by the Louisiana Association of Educators and the Iberville Parish School Board to declare unconstitutional the flow of state money to 33 BESE-authorized charter schools, including seven in East Baton Rouge Parish, a half-dozen in Orleans Parish, three in Lafayette Parish and two in Jefferson Parish.
Fields, who presided over a three-day bench trial that concluded Wednesday, said he will issue a ruling May 15 after receiving written post-trial arguments and hearing oral arguments.
Brian Blackwell, an attorney for the LAE teachers’ union, and Iberville School Board attorney Mike Fontham said outside the courtroom that the case is not about liking or disliking charter schools, but how they are funded through the Minimum Foundation Program.
Fontham charged that the state is diverting money away from the Iberville school system and transfering it to charter schools.
An Iberville lawsuit against the state alleges that $4 million in state aid was unfairly diverted from the Iberville 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.
An LAE suit contends the state improperly spends $60 million a year for two types of charter schools that are not entitled to the state aid from the MFP.
Blackwell said the state is violating the Constitution in doing so.
The state Department of Education counters that charter schools are public schools entitled to the assistance.
“The department feels it presented it’s case that the primary goal is to ensure that each child in a public school gets a good opportunity for a good education,” DOE attorney Jay O’Brien said outside Fields’ courtroom.
Charter schools are public schools run by nongovernmental boards. They operate without much of the red tape associated with traditional public schools.
There are some 13,000 students in the 33 charter schools involved in the case, the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools has said.
Attorneys from that association and the Adams and Reese law firm are scheduled to meet Thursday in New Orleans with charter school parents and leaders to discuss the litigation. The forum will be held from 5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. at New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy at 425 O’Bannon St.
Nearly 59,000 students attend 117 charter schools statewide, according to a recent report by the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.
The LAE argues 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.
Roemer said BESE considers the general wealth of individual school districts in calculating the MFP formula.
“Some districts have the ability to fund public education better than other districts,” the BESE president testified, stressing that the state funds districts in an equitable rather than equal fashion.
“Equitable doesn’t mean absolutely equal,” he added.
The LSU and Southern Lab schools could be impacted by Fields’ decision, in addition to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts and the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts.