Louisiana is improperly spending $60 million a year for two types of charter schools that are not entitled to the aid, an attorney for a teachers’ union charged Wednesday in urging a Baton Rouge state judge to halt the assistance. But lawyers representing state education leaders and an umbrella group for charter schools statewide asked District Judge Wilson Fields to preserve the status quo, arguing there is nothing unconstitutional about the state aid for the charter schools.
Col. Bill Davis testified at the hearing that his 540-student charter school — the New Orleans Military Maritime Academy in Algiers — would close by next summer if it lost its roughly $3 million in current funding from the state’s Minimum Foundation Program.
Fields took Wednesday’s testimony and arguments under advisement and said he would issue a ruling at 9 a.m. Friday.
Louisiana Association of Educators attorney Brian Blackwell told the judge that charter schools authorized by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, as well as those approved by local groups, do not qualify as “city and parish school systems” that the Louisiana Constitution requires get MFP funds.
“MFP money can’t go to the charter schools,” he argued.
The $3.6 billion MFP is the key source of state aid for public schools.
Charter schools are public schools that are run by nongovernmental boards. They operate without much of the red tape associated with traditional public schools.
Fields, a former legislator, pointed out that the 1974 state constitution says the MFP funding formula is for “all public schools.” He also noted that charter schools were not in existence at that time.
Blackwell argued the constitutional provision referenced by the judge means all public schools operated by city and parish school systems.
Jay O’Brien, an attorney for the state Department of Education, countered that the constitution ensures that each child in a public school receives an equal education opportunity.
“The purpose is to educate the children,” he said. “The Legislature is tasked to fund all public education.”
Mark Beebe, who represents the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, which Fields allowed to intervene in the LAE lawsuit on the side of charter schools whose state aid is in dispute, argued that BESE — the state board — comes up with the MFP formula and equitably allocates the funds.
“BESE has done its job,” Beebe told Fields. “BESE is responsible for all public schools.”
O’Brien submitted a sworn affidavit from state Commissioner of Administration Kristy Nichols that stated a ruling in LAE’s favor would create a deficit-spending scenario for the state.
“How is it going to create a deficit?” Fields inquired. “It appears money would be going back into the MFP.”
O’Brien replied by saying the state would have to take money out of the general fund to pay the charter schools.
Caroline Roemer Shirley, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, said in a prepared statement that the LAE’s challenge “would limit school choice statewide, eroding a parent’s right to decide what is best for their child’s education.”
“These lawsuits are nothing more than adults who have benefited from an educational monopoly fighting to keep an outdated education system at the expense of educational options, innovation and growth,” she said.
The LAE legal challenge is separate from a suit filed earlier on a similar issue in Iberville Parish. That suit, also filed in the 19th Judicial District Court, alleges that $4 million in state aid was unfairly diverted from the Iberville school system to a newly opened charter school in Plaquemine and another charter school in Baton Rouge.
A hearing on the Iberville suit is set for Nov. 18.
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.