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D.C. charters threaten suit over funding

- The Washington Times - Friday, April 30, 2010

D.C. charter school supporters are threatening legal action against the city if the mayors fiscal 2010 and 2011 budget proposals fail to comply with legal mandates for the per-pupil funding formulas.

The threat came Friday as D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi and Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee testified before the D.C. Council on budget disparities and the tentative contract with the Washington Teachers Union.

The union's teachers have been working without a contract with D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) since 2007. The new $1.27 billion deal would cover five years' worth of raises from 2007 through 2012. The performance-pay plan is a voluntary one whose details have yet to be ironed out. The fact that merit pay is part of a deal for unionized workers has nonetheless been touted as "groundbreaking," "historic" and a "game-changer."

The charter school community sees things differently.

Advocates for charters, which are public schools that operate outside the usual school bureaucracy, say they back raises for teachers and support Miss Rhee's efforts to raise private funds. But they say the proposed Uniform Per Student Funding Formula (UPSFF) is inequitable and titled toward traditional D.C. Public Schools.

Charter schools are entitled to uniform per-pupil operating funds in accordance with local and federal laws, Barnaby Towns, a spokesman for Friends of Choice in Urban Schools, told The Washington Times. The union deal pays for DCPS teachers but not charter school teachers.

"D.C. charter schools are not receiving uniform operating funding in fiscal year 2010 and will not receive uniform operating funding in fiscal year 2011," Mr. Towns said. "In each of these years, DCPS gets tens of millions of dollars in additional operating funding through and outside the UPSFF. DCPS can use this additional money for teacher pay raises, but charters do not have this money."

Mr. Towns continued, "Any additional public funding needed for DCPS teacher pay increases should be put through the funding formula. [The] inequity in public funding could be legitimately pursued in a lawsuit."

During his testimony on Friday, Mr. Gandhi told lawmakers that charter school advocates are "quite organized in seeking more money from the city."

Mr. Gandhi said that before he reconsiders certifying the union deal, lawmakers and the mayor must close two budget gaps -- a $28.7 million gap in 2010 and a $135.6 million gap through 2013.