- The Washington Times - Monday, May 3, 2010

D.C. supporters of charter schools are among a number of national proponents who are turning toward litigation to get charter students their fair share of public education dollars.

In North Carolina, a charter coalition has filed a federal complaint alleging discrimination after winning a funding lawsuit in February. In Missouri, St. Louis charter schools and parents claim that the school district owes them millions of dollars that the public school system failed to distribute after receiving the money from the state.

D.C. advocates say they will sue if Mayor Adrian M. Fenty fails to increase the per-pupil allocations for charter students. The Washington Times broke the news about the threat on its website Friday after a daylong D.C. Council hearing on school budget discrepancies, teachers salaries and a new union agreement.

At the hearing, Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray cited a draft proposal by charter advocates that spells out several demands, including aligning charter schools per-pupil allocations with those of traditional schools. The funding concerns stem from a tentative union agreement that includes five years worth of raises and a much-heralded merit-pay package.

“If Mayor Fenty does not agree to modify the per-student funding formula to include the impact of this new proposed compensation structure, it is the charter communitys intent to take the city to court in order to ensure parity and equity in accordance with D.C. Charter School laws and regulations,” according to the four-page document titled “Draft Charter School Position Paper on Salary Increases,” a copy of which was obtained by The Times.

Funding for charter schools varies from state to state and, like public schools, they receive a combination of local, state and federal money. Many school districts and states base their funding for charters and traditional public schools on a per-pupil formula, which is then “weighted” to factor in such additional costs as special education and transportation.

But the mayor and schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee strayed from that formula, which is mandated in the School Reform Act, by brokering a union deal that excludes charters from receiving additional funding, said a spokesman for Friends of Choice in Urban Schools.

Like their public school counterparts, charters view funding as key to their operations, and as competition for those dollars grows, so do legal actions.

The St. Louis Charter School filed a lawsuit last year claiming that St. Louis Public Schools had shortchanged its funding by $3.86 million over four years. The state put a preliminary estimate at $1.5 million. If the states calculations are applied to across the board, the dollar amount could reach as high as $20 million for the city’s dozen charters.

In North Carolina, the Association of African American Charter School Administrators filed a discrimination complaint last week with the U.S. Department of Educations office of civil rights.

The complaint claims a state Board of Education policy approved in December is biased against charter schools because it mandates that a charter be revoked if less than 60 percent of a charters students pass standardized tests in two out of three consecutive years and if students fail to meet or exceed expected growth based on those tests.

Traditional public schools are granted more leeway, the complainants said.

“Our concern is we just want the support and the same treatment,” Eugene Slocum, principal of Alpha Academy, told the Fayetteville Observer.

Friends of Choice in Urban Schools spokesman Barnaby Towns made similar remarks to The Times, pointing to the D.C. mayor’s budget plan for fiscal 2010 and 2011.

“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.”

• Deborah Simmons can be reached at dsimmons@washingtontimes.com.

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