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Louisiana high court ruling for charter schools makes funding law clear, business advocate says


April 5, 2018
By Karen Kidd
Originally Posted on The Louisiana Record

The Louisiana Supreme Court decision last month in favor of charter schools is a clear victory for backers of those schools, a business lobby president said during a recent interview.

"The court ruling is a huge victory for more than 16,000 public charter school students across the state and a strong signal that Louisiana is sincere in its efforts to provide quality educational options to families," Louisiana Association of Business and Industry President and CEO Stephen Waguespack told the Louisiana Record.

The decision also clarifies under state law how charter schools may be funded, Waguespack said. "The law is now clear and our resolve should be as well," he said.

"The ruling will hopefully put an end to the efforts by some to take away school choice from Louisiana students. These lawsuits should stop and these families should no longer be left in limbo. These families deserve closure and assurance that the state will keep its promise to them."

In its opinion handed down March 13, the Louisiana Supreme Court reversed a 3-2 decision handed down in January 2017 by the state's 1st Circuit Court of Appeal that charter school funding is unconstitutional because charter schools don't meet the legal definition of public schools. In its review from the beginning, Louisiana's highest court found that state law does not prohibit allocation of state or local minimum foundation program (MFP) funding to charter schools.

MFP funding of charter schools had been challenged in the case by the Louisiana Association of Educators, one of two teacher unions in the state.

"While there is no definition of 'public elementary' and 'secondary schools' in the constitution, our legislature has expressed that charter schools are independent public schools," Louisiana Supreme Court Justice James T. Genovese wrote the high court's 30-page opinion. We agree with defendants' contention that affirming the court of appeal's rationale, i.e., denying MFP funding because the school is not under the jurisdiction of a parish or city school board, could potentially have adverse consequences to other charter schools, not just New Type 2 charter schools."

The plaintiffs, by contrast, "failed in their burden to prove clearly and convincingly that the constitution imposes substantive limits or requirements on how the MFP is to be developed or implemented," Justice Genovese wrote in the court's opinion.

Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson and Justice Jefferson D. Hughes III dissented. In her dissent, Johnson said she agreed with the 1st Circuit's ruling that the formula to fund charter schools violates the state Constitution "in that it allows the diversion of public school funds to non-public schools."

That dissent aside, the majority's opinion should send a message, Waguespack said. "This ruling will hopefully send a clear signal to all public-school educators, both charter and traditional, that Louisiana supports the concept of connecting quality teaching with student need," he said.

"A quality public education comes in all shapes and sizes and there is no one size fits all approach that works for each community. A thriving and competitive marketplace in public education can benefit educators and families alike. Louisiana has embraced this concept for decades and will continue to do so with this ruling."