La. Supreme Court to hear charter school funding suit Sept. 5

Red River Charter officials to meet with BESE evaluator Wednesday

Those hoping for state approval for a new charter school in Avoyelles Parish, and those who want the state to end the funding of competing public schools within a public school district, may be one step closer to getting their wish soon.

The Louisiana Supreme Court is scheduled to hear arguments on the controversial issue Sept. 5.

The suit affects funding for the so-called Type II charters -- schools a local school board denied that were approved by the state's Board of Elementary & Secondary Education.

The court’s decision will not affect the parish’s two existing public charter schools -- Avoyelles Public Charter, a K-12 school in Mansura funded fully by the state, and Louisiana School for Agricultural Sciences (LaSAS) in Bayhills, which is basically one of the APSB’s grade 7-12 high schools.

APCS is one of the “legacy” charter schools, also called the “Great Eight,” that were among the state’s first charter schools. LaSAS is a Type IV charter, approved by BESE but managed in large part by the local board.

The case will potentially have an impact on a proposed third charter school, Red River Charter Academy, that will be presenting their case in October for BESE approval of a grade 6-8 charter school in 2018-19.

LOCAL PROS, CONS

APSD Superintendent Blaine Dauzat and most of the School Board members have opposed Red River’s efforts for the past four years.

Reasons expressed for opposing the charter have included (1) its possible adverse effect on desegregation of the public schools; (2) that it will be a “brain drain” that will take good students and result in lower performance scores for the district’s three non-charter high schools; (3) and it will be a significant economic cost to the district that could force the board to close a school.

RRCA President Jessica Couvillion and others will meet with BESE’s evaluator Wednesday (Aug. 16). The evaluator will deliver its recommendation to state Education Superintendent John White. White will review the recommendation and recommend BESE approve or deny the application.

BESE is supposed to make its decision at its Oct. 18 meeting. However, the board deferred its October 2015 decision to January 2016 and its October 2016 decision to December last year.

This will be RRCA’s fourth appeal to BESE. It withdrew the appeal prior to the BESE meeting the first year, was recommended by the evaluator but denied by BESE the next two years, and is hoping for the evaluator's recommendation and BESE approval this year.

If approved, RRCA would add a high school grade each school year until it is eventually a grade 6-12 high school.

FUNDING DISPUTE

Type II charters receive funding through the state’s Minimum Foundation Program formula. The reasoning is that state public education dollars should follow public school students to their public school -- even if that school is a charter school that is not operated by the local school board.

Local school districts agree with that reasoning up to the dash. Their reasoning is that public charter schools do not fit the definition of public schools to be eligible for state funds.

Some local education officials and a teachers union filed suit, claiming that giving state funds to the charter schools violates the state constitution.

The 1st Circuit Court of Appeals in Baton Rouge agreed with that position, but has allowed the funding mechanism to remain in place pending the charter schools’ appeal to the Supreme Court.

There are currently about 30 charter schools in this category, with about 16,000 students. BESE hears requests for additional charters every year.

If the Supreme Court upholds the appeals court ruling, it may well be a death-blow to those wanting to operate a tuition-free, public charter school. Without MFP funds and local tax revenues, the charter schools would have no funding source to pay for salaries and operating expenses.

If the 1st Circuit ruling is overturned, it would certainly allow existing Type II’s to breathe easier and embolden would-be Type II’s to continue their quest.

“The Supreme Court hearing is important,” Couvillion said. “If the court upholds the lower court ruling, it spells trouble for a lot of charter schools.

“To be honest,” she continued, “I don’t think the state Supreme Court will have the final word on this. I think both sides will try to find a way to litigate it in federal court, if possible.”

Couvillion said there are “too many children involved in this issue for it to end on Sept. 5. It would certainly be a sad day if the court decided that a parent’s choice on their child’s education should be taken away just to please a special interest.”

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