- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 13, 2018

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - More than 30 charter schools created by Louisiana’s education board can continue to receive financing through the state’s public school funding formula, after the state Supreme Court ruled Tuesday against a union that argued the payment method was unconstitutional.

In a 5-2 decision, the high court overturned a lower court ruling that threatened to upend payments for the 35 schools and their 18,000 students.

Superintendent of Education John White, a charter school supporter, praised the ruling, saying: “Justice was done today.”

“This lawsuit has always been about money, plain and simple. It was never about children. But today’s ruling affirms not only that charter schools are indeed public schools, but that families and children have the right to choose their schools,” White said.

Charter schools are funded with taxpayer dollars but operated by independent organizations with more freedom.

The schools at issue in Tuesday’s ruling, called Type 2 charter schools, were granted charters directly from the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, unlike more than 100 other charter schools operating in Louisiana that get their charters from local school boards.

The Iberville Parish School Board, the Louisiana Association of Educators and local chapters of the teacher’s union argued in lawsuits that funding the state-chartered schools through a formula meant to pay for local school districts violates the Louisiana Constitution. The formula divvies up both state and local tax dollars.

“I’m disappointed in the court’s decision,” Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators said in a statement. “This ruling solidifies the division of public schools into separate systems, creating greater inequities for our students.”

If the 35 charter schools couldn’t be financed through the public school formula and the state wanted to keep the schools open, it would have cost state government more money - requiring full state financing, rather than using a mix of state and local tax dollars. Legislative budget analysts estimated the state cost increase would have been around $100 million.

White said the lawsuit was filed by people “hoping that these schools would be driven out of existence.”

The court fight had stretched out over three years. The Supreme Court reversed a 3-2 decision by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal.

Charter school advocates celebrated Tuesday.

“We strongly believe that state funding for public education should follow the child, not the school district. This ruling ensures that all students who attend public schools - whether it’s a charter school or a traditional district school - receive public dollars equitably,” Caroline Roemer, executive director of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools, said in a statement.

Despite the ongoing uncertainty since the lawsuit had been filed, the state education board had continued to charter new schools directly.


Follow Melinda Deslatte on Twitter at http://twitter.com/melindadeslatte

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