- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 10, 2017

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Funding for more than 30 of Louisiana’s 150 public charter schools was placed in doubt by a state appeal court ruling in a case expected to wind up at the state Supreme Court.

Charter schools are public schools, funded with taxpayer dollars but operated by independent organizations under agreements approved by state or local education officials.

The schools in question are located in various parts of Louisiana. Their operators were granted charters by Louisiana’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, rather than the local school boards. And they were funded through the Minimum Foundation Program, a Legislature-approved formula known as the MFP that governs the way tax dollars - state and local - are doled out to individual local school districts.

A number of local education officials and a teacher union argued in lawsuits that funding the state-chartered schools through a formula meant to fund local school districts violates the Louisiana Constitution and siphons money away from local public schools.

The state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge agreed Monday in a 3-2 decision , noting that the Louisiana Constitution states that MFP money is for “parish and city school systems.”

The dissenting judges said the BESE-chartered schools are public schools and there is no language prohibiting them from getting MFP dollars.

With an estimated $60 million to $80 million in question, the case is expected to go to Louisiana’s Supreme Court.

The teacher union that challenged the case, the Louisiana Association of Educators, praised the ruling. LAE President Debbie Meaux acknowledged in a news release that a Supreme Court appeal is likely but added she hopes the Legislature will address the funding issue without the need for more court action.

Lawmakers could opt to fund the charters separately from the MFP. But that would require full state financing - rather than paying for the schools with a mix of state and local tax dollars - boosting costs for Louisiana’s state operating budget amid recurring financial problems.

Charter school supporters met the ruling with varying degrees of concern.

“With the First Circuit Court of Appeal’s decision, the education of 13,000 Louisiana students is imperiled,” said an emailed news release from PublicSchoolsOptions.org.

If the decision stands, the group said, the affected schools could close.

“This is one step in a process that has always been headed to the Supreme Court,” Superintendent of Education John White said in an emailed statement. “This lawsuit is only about money. It disregards the rights of parents to choose the schools that are best for their unique children. We look forward to presenting the matter at the next level.”

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