Louisiana's funding of certain types of charter schools hit a snag following a ruling Monday from a state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal panel that, in a 3-2 decision, ruled unconstitutional the Louisiana Department of Education and the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's support such schools with local and state tax dollars.
Monday's ruling overturns the May 2015 decision from Baton Rouge state District Judge Wilson Fields, who originally heard the arguments for the lawsuit from Louisiana Association of Educators against BESE and the Department of Education. A separate lawsuit from the Iberville Parish School Board over funding of a Type 2 charter school in that parish was consolidated with the case.
“This is a significant victory in defending the right of every child in Louisiana to attend a quality public school,” LAE President Debbie Meaux said in a written statement. “It is crucial for the state to adequately fund the institutions where the vast majority of Louisiana’s students learn, and a majority of Louisiana’s students learn in public school classrooms.”
Caroline Roemer Shirley, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, expressed "extreme disappointment" in Monday's decision, promising an appeal to the state's highest court.
"We feel there were a lot of politics at play here," she said Monday. "We joined the case on behalf of the Type 2 charter schools we represent. And we always considered it would be a very important case that would be heard before the (Louisiana) Supreme Court."
State Education Superintendent John White, in a written statement, said, "This is one step in a process that has always been headed to the Supreme Court. This lawsuit is only about money. It disregards the rights of parents to choose the schools that are best for their unique children. We look forward to presenting the matter at the next level."
Louisiana education officials are declaring as a “major victory” a state judge’s ruling Frid…
The plaintiffs asked Wilson to block the state's funding 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, through a permanent injunction.
Wilson, however, deemed the state's use of state Minimum Foundation Program funding to operate certain charter schools was OK since Type 2 charters approved by BESE fall within the state constitution's definition of public schools.
Type 2 charter schools are self-governed public schools independent of existing public school districts. They must obtain BESE’s approval to operate after an application and review process and can draw students from across the state.
A majority of the five-member panel of 1st Circuit judges who heard LAE's appeal to Wilson's ruling disagreed with the lower-court judge.
Judges John Michael Guidry and Jewel "Duke" Welch joined in Judge Wayne Ray Chutz's opinion that Type 2 charter schools aren't entitled to MFP funding because they don't meet the definition of public schools clearly defined in the Louisiana Constitution. Judge Guy Holdridge offered a dissent that was supported by Chief Judge Vanessa Whipple.
Charter school supporters note that such schools can operate without much of the red tape associated with traditional public schools.
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 the MFP, arguing that BESE-authorized charter schools don’t qualify as “city and parish school systems,” which the state constitution requires be provided with MFP funds.
Guidry made many of the same arguments in the majority's ruling Monday, citing precedent was established in the Louisiana Federation of Teachers' 2012 successful challenge of the state's expanded voucher program, which sought to give students at poor academically preforming public schools the option to apply for state aid to attend private or parochial schools.
"The case distinguishes between 'public schools' and 'nonpublic schools' and concludes that MFP funds cannot be diverted to nonpublic schools," Guidry wrote. "The court in Louisiana Federation of Teachers recognized that nonpublic schools are not owned or operated by 'parish and city school systems.' "
"So, while the New Type 2 charter schools may be subject to the same requirements as public schools and may not necessarily be considered 'private' schools, they clearly do not meet the constitutional definition of 'public schools'," Guidry added.
In his dissent to Guidry's ruling, Judge Holdridge called attention to the constitution's recognition of public schools that are not part of city and parish school system but are still funded by MFP dollars — like the lab schools at LSU and Southern University.
"There are no exceptions in the language of the constitution that provide that public schools that are not part of the parish or city school systems are somehow different from other public schools or that they should be funded differently," Holdridge asserted. "Neither the constitution, legislation nor jurisprudence require that the words 'public schools' mean 'public schools in parish or city school systems.' "
Holdridge did say the matter should be remanded to the trial court for "additional evidence as to the nature of each local school tax so that a determination can be made as to the constitutionality of the local cost allocation as applied to the Iberville Parish School Systems."