Ruling Expected Friday In Charter Schools Lawsuit

BATON ROUGE (AP) — A state district judge said he will rule Friday on a preliminary injunction to keep some charter schools from receiving $60 million through Louisiana's public school financing formula.

         Judge Wilson Fields heard testimony and arguments Wednesday about whether the state properly steered money to 33 charter schools authorized by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, known as BESE.

         The Louisiana Association of Educators union filed a lawsuit challenging the spending, claiming it violates the state constitution because those charter schools are created and operated outside of parish and city school systems.

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         Charter schools are public schools run with broad autonomy from state and local education officials. In addition to schools created by BESE, the lawsuit targets charter schools that could be authorized by local education nonprofits, as allowed under a 2012 law.

         Supporters say charter schools offer more specialized educational opportunities to students. Public school leaders say they take needed money away from their schools and worsen conditions for the students who remain in traditional public schools.

         Brian Blackwell, a lawyer for the union, told Fields the Louisiana Constitution limits the funding formula to pay for the parish and city systems. He said funneling the payment for the BESE-created charter schools through the school financing formula diverts local property and sales tax dollars that voters approved to pay for their local school systems.

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         Sandra Scott, president of the Madison Parish union affiliate, testified that the traditional public schools in the parish laid off 57 people, including bus drivers, central office personnel and classroom teachers after charter schools in Tallulah and Delhi opened.

         "Budgetary constraints were imposed on the Madison Parish School Board," she said.

         Jay O'Brien, a lawyer representing the state, said that the dollars shifted to pay for the students at the charter schools and that the local school board had fewer students to educate. He said the purpose of the constitutional language was to ensure every child has access to an equal and adequate public education, not to dictate which school or school system provides it.

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         Retired Marine Corps Col. Bill Davis, commandant of the New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy, said his charter high school would be forced to shut down without the funding provided by the state. He said the 540 students, who come from New Orleans and four neighboring parishes, would be scattered to other schools.

         "It would throw off their academics," Davis said.

         Fields said he must decide whether the way those schools are financed violates the constitution, not whether schools would shut down.

         "That's not something the court should take into consideration," he said.

         The lawsuit challenges the financing through the $3.6 billion public school formula. If the Louisiana Association of Educators' lawsuit is successful, lawmakers and the governor could still pay for the charter schools outside of the formula.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte

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