The definition of "charter school" starts with "public," because these are public schools that are run by independent boards. But the threat of competition for dollars has fueled a legal challenge to public funding for that particular type of public school.

In a 3-2 split decision, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Type 2 charter schools — those authorized directly by the state's education board — are not public schools and cannot receive funds from the state's main funding program for education.

The decision is certain to be appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court, and we urge the justices to take a close look at it. We see a diversity of educational options for students and families as a good thing, and funding for a number of schools could be endangered if the narrow 1st Circuit ruling is upheld.

In 2015, the Iberville School Board and the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) sued the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and the state, arguing it was unconstitutional to include Type 2 charters — schools authorized by BESE — inside the MFP, the funding program.

A trial judge in the 19th Judicial District in Baton Rouge ruled in favor of the charter schools, but the appeals court did not agree. The court's majority opinion stated that because these schools are not under the jurisdiction of a local school board, they are not public schools and cannot receive MFP funds.

We think the dissenters on the 1st Circuit have the better case, because there are schools — university laboratory schools, for example — that have long been outside the control of local school boards.

The courts ruled in 2012 that tuition vouchers for private schools violated the Louisiana Constitution's limit on MFP spending for "public elementary and secondary schools." The 1974 constitution, created long before charters were established, also requires that the MFP formula be equitable among parish and city school systems.

In technical language, "local education authorities" are defined by the state and BESE, not by the parish or city boards. We see the court cherry-picking one part of the constitutional language to justify curtailing the power of BESE and the Legislature to establish public schools.

Vouchers are funded separately from the MFP, but there isn't likely to be enough money to make up the gap left by the sweeping nature of the appeals court decision.

A number of schools might be affected if the 1st Circuit's flawed opinion is upheld, taking away public funding not only from some charters in New Orleans — those authorized since 2008 — but others around the state. Those might include seven schools in East Baton Rouge Parish, three in Lafayette Parish and two in Jefferson Parish.

All this smacks of the legal distinction made by President Bill Clinton once upon a time: It depends on what the definition of "is" is.

If a publicly accountable charter school is defined as nonpublic because only traditional school boards can define "school," then many charters could be smothered in the financial cradle in Louisiana. Local school boards would be able to reject their competitors without an appeal to BESE's Type 2 process.

We don't buy that, and we hope that the Supreme Court does not, either.