ANNAPOLIS (AP) — Local school boards will have to pay more to charter schools in their districts under a ruling by Maryland's highest court.
In a 5-2 decision, the Maryland Court of Appeals affirmed Monday that charter schools have a right to receive as much money per pupil as regular public schools.
Charter schools are publicly funded but operate independently. In Maryland, they receive a combination of public funds and services such as special education and food. The ruling allows charter schools to choose cash instead of those services, according to the Daily Record in Baltimore.
"Services are not prohibited; they just cannot be forced on the charter schools at the whim of the [local school] boards," retired Judge Alan M. Wilner wrote for the majority. Judge Irma S. Raker wrote a dissent, joined by Chief Judge Robert M. Bell.
Three charter schools — two in Baltimore and one in Prince George's County — had challenged the amount of money their local school boards proposed to contribute.
Maryland law requires charter schools to receive funding "commensurate" with that of regular schools but does not define what that entails. The State Board of Education eventually decided that charter schools should receive per-student funding equal to the average per-student funding that traditional public schools in that district receive.
The decision was reversed by circuit courts in Baltimore and Prince George's, but the Court of Special Appeals sided with the school board. The Court of Appeals affirmed.
Charter school advocates hailed the ruling.
"It's a great decision, and it's in keeping with what we believe is and should be the law of the land: Money should follow children," said Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, a pro-charter group that last year gave Maryland a "D" in its annual rankings of state charter laws. "Children are entitled to equitable public funding regardless of the kind of school they attend."
Others said children in traditional public schools would be hurt by the decision.
"It was a bad decision financially," said Sen. Paul G. Pinsky, Prince George's Democrat. "I think it's going to result in children at charter schools receiving more than children at traditional public schools."
The dissenting judges argued the state school board, through its interpretation of the law, had created a de facto regulation on charter school funding. The board's policy calling for charter schools to receive the same amount of cash per student "should have been the subject of formal rulemaking procedures," Judge Raker wrote.
Last academic year, the Baltimore school system's budget included the equivalent of more than $13,000 a child for public school students, though not all of that was spent directly on children. Charter schools received $5,859 a child in cash and the rest in services.
This year, charters will receive $8,415 a child in cash but will assume employee benefits, which the system previously covered. How much more they will receive depends on what services the charters choose to forego in favor of the cash equivalent.
Through a spokeswoman, Baltimore schools chief Andres Alonso declined to comment on the ruling Monday, saying he is studying it.
Administrators at Patterson Park Public Charter School, one of the schools that challenged the funding formula, said they planned to request cash in place of special-education services, though that could spark another battle in a decades-long special-education lawsuit.
Bill Wilson, the school's executive director, said if the school received about $11,000 in cash for each of its 50 disabled students "we could certainly provide more special-education services to our population than what we're getting now."