A union-led lawsuit against charter schools is not only misguided in its stated aims, but also threatens serious collateral damage to the LSU and Southern Lab schools; to the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts; to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts; and to special schools of the state juvenile justice system.
Judge Wilson Fields, of the 19th Judicial District, should dismiss the suit forthwith.
First, the background. Both the Iberville Parish School Board and the Louisiana Association of Educators (a school workers union) have filed suit against the state to stop the Department of Education from financing one type of charter school through the state’s Minimum Foundation Program — a constitutionally protected program that guarantees a minimum funding level for public schools.
They argue, although not convincingly, that Type 2 charters, which operate directly under the jurisdiction of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, violate an alleged constitutional requirement that the MFP money can be used only under the purview of traditional city or parish school boards.
In response, the state and the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools note that the constitution leaves it up to BESE and/or the Legislature to define city and parish schools, and that the Legislature and BESE, via duly passed public law, have decreed that “The definition of city, parish, or local public school systems and schools shall include city or parish school systems; Recovery School District including operated and Type 5 charter schools; Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts (LSMSA); New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA); New Type 2 Charter schools; Legacy Type 2 Charter schools; Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) schools; and Louisiana State University and Southern University Lab schools.”
From a legal standpoint, then, state law, pursuant to the state constitution, clearly includes Type 2 charters within those that qualify for MFP financing.
From a practical standpoint, excluding them from the MFP also would exclude the lab schools, NOCCA and the others that are included in, and only via, the exact same paragraph used to justify the charters’ participation in the program. In an Oct. 29 court hearing, Fields explicitly asked if the lab schools and other special programs would, by logical extension, be denied MFP funding along with the Type 2 charters — and the union’s lawyer said yes.
The judge asked all sides for supplementary briefs on the subject, and LAE argued, essentially, that because they were only asking for denial of the charters’ funding, without including the other special schools, any injunction denying that funding would be limited to the charters. Yet — note this! — LAE also effectively acknowledged that denial of funding for the charters could well set precedent for denial of funding for the lab schools and others.
Rather blithely, they wrote: “However, if there is any such impact, funding for the LSU and SU laboratory schools for the 2015-2016 Fiscal Year and subsequent fiscal years may be accomplished through the General Appropriations Act. …”
But that gives the whole game away. The entire point of the MFP program is to guarantee a basic level of financing to the educational institutions without needing to rely on the political vagaries of the legislative process. If the charters are excluded from the MFP, then any challenge to the lab schools and NOCCA would similarly succeed at barring them, too, from minimum funding — and put their very existence back at the mercy of short-term politics.
(The LAE brief made some other distinctions, as well, but those distinctions were all foofaraw. As the union attorney admitted on Oct. 29, the legal logic tying the charters’ fates with that of the lab schools is rather compelling.)
The lab schools are a blessing. NOCCA and the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts are blessings. The juvenile justice schools are blessings. And, by undeniable popular acclaim, the charter schools are a tremendous blessing to parents, the students and the state. The lawsuit’s goals are as ill-advised as its legal arguments are sketchy. The suit would break what’s already working. The school of life teaches that it’s better to leave well enough alone.
New Orleans native Quin Hillyer is a contributing editor for National Review. You can follow him on Twitter, @QuinHillyer. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and he blogs at blogs.theadvocate.com/quin-essential.