Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Charter advocates challenge school finance systems in Arizona and North Carolina

This from ACCESS:
Charter school advocates in Arizona and North Carolina filed lawsuits last month alleging that their respective states have provided inadequate and inequitable funding for charters. The cases are the most recent examples of an emerging trend of charter school groups initiating education finance litigations.

The plaintiffs in Foley v. Horne—seven families of charter school students—claim
that Arizona’s separate financing system for non-traditional schools contravenes the state constitution’s equal protection and uniform public education guarantees...

In North Carolina, seven charter schools and 16 families have filed a suit with claims similar to Foley. Their complaint alleges that regulations prohibiting counties and local school districts from providing funds for facilities needs to charters violate the “general and uniform system of free public schools” clause in the state’s constitution.

In North Carolina, only traditional public schools have access to the capital outlay fund, which provides monies for real property and capital construction. The plaintiffs allege that the expenditure discrepancies are discriminatory, and that they inhibit charter students’ access to “equal opportunity for a sound basic education.” ...

These cases follow a number of victories for charter schools in North Carolina and other states in recent years. In Sugar Creek Charter School, Inc. v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education, several charter schools based in Charlotte, N. Carolina—including plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed last month—argued that districts’ refusal to provide them categorical funding for specialized programs contravened the state law. The court ruled in their favor in 2008.

In City Neighbors Charter School v. Baltimore City Board of Commissioners, a Maryland Appeals court decided that the city board of education—which provided charter schools 25% less in average per pupil funding than traditional schools—failed to satisfy a Maryland statute requiring districts to award funds “commensurate with the amount disbursed to other public schools in the local jurisdiction.”

Some commentators, however, question the merits of charter advocates’ claims...According to Arizona law, for instance, charter schools must meet the same academic requirements as traditional schools, but are subject to fewer administrative regulations and less oversight, including budgeting and collective bargaining. These circumstances presumably promote greater efficiency and lower costs.

In a number of states, local school boards and/or local schools have sued to block funding of charter schools in their area. For example, in Georgia, a number of district schools recently sued the state over charter funding. In Gwinnett County School District v. Cox, the plaintiffs challenge the constitutionality of the state’s reallocation of funds from district schools to their charter counterparts....

In Arizona, Hobday v. Horne, by public school parents takes the more traditional tack of focusing on inequities of public schools in property-poor districts...

Interestingly this case was also funded by the Arizona Charter Schools Association. Presumably their interest is that raising per capita funding for public school students in the property poor districts would also have the effect of raising the base per capita allocations for the charter school students.

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