Appeals Court says Type 2 charter schools are not public schools, jeopardizing their funding
In 2015, the Iberville School Board and the Louisiana Association of Educators (LAE) sued the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) and the state, arguing it was unconstitutional to include Type 2 charters – schools authorized by BESE – inside the MFP. A District Court judge ruled in favor of the charter schools, but the plaintiffs appealed.
Yesterday, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. The court’s majority opinion stated that because these schools are not under the jurisdiction of a local school board, they are not public schools and cannot receive MFP funds. The dissenting opinion argued that nowhere in the state’s constitution or statutes does it say only schools authorized by local school districts are public schools.
What does this mean for New Orleans?
This ruling, if left intact, could have a devastating impact on a number of area schools, although it’s unclear if it would affect all Type 2 charters and state-authorized schools, or just charter schools authorized after July 1, 2008.
Judge rules against Lusher and Lake Forest on differentiated school funding
A federal judge has ruled against Lusher and Lake Forest and their attempt to halt changes to the differentiated funding formula. In the opinion of Judge Jane Triche Milazzo:
- The schools would not experience irreparable harm if the new formula was implemented.
- Changing the formula did not violate the schools’ charter contracts.
The judge declined to rule on whether the funding formula had been adopted legally, saying state courts should consider the matter first.
Last spring, OPSB and RSD worked together to develop a unified per-student funding formula, an important stage in returning RSD schools to local control. The unified formula emphasizes students with disabilities, with a small extra amount for each gifted student. Lusher and Lake Forest, with their large gifted populations and small number of students with disabilities, will receive less money than they would have under the old formula.
The schools say they are considering their options at this time.
“Just Think How Far We’ve Come”
Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr., August 29, 2016
The Orleans Parish School Board unanimously approved a Unification Plan outlining the return of schools to the elected board.
With the adoption of this plan, the school board has embraced a shared vision for the unified school district that builds upon the changes since Katrina and commits to continuing improvement.
A locally elected school board will govern a system of schools in a district that is over 90% charter schools, provides school choice for all families, and expressly commits to ensuring equity and recognizing the need for differentiated resources based on student need.
A slide from the superintendent’s presentation to the school board captures this vision:
Latest on OPSB Elections
One week after qualifying ended for November’s OPSB elections, one incumbent has been disqualified and three candidates have been elected without opposition.
Cynthia Cade was disqualified by a Civil District Court Judge who said she did not file her tax forms and signed false certification papers claiming that she had. Cade, who represents District 2 (Gentilly, New Orleans East), has 24 hours to appeal the decision. If the decision is not reversed, Ethan Ashley of the Urban League of Greater New Orleans will become the representative for District 2 when the new board takes office in January.
Ben Kleban was the latest candidate to be elected outright when his opponent, Eldon Anderson, withdrew. Kleban, who is the founder and president of the New Orleans College Prep charter school network, will represent the 5th District (Uptown).
If, when and how the Recovery School District (RSD) schools should return to local control has been a point of discussion and contention for the past ten years. On Wednesday, SB 432 by Senator Peterson unanimously passed the Senate and now heads to the House. If SB 432 becomes law, these questions are about to be answered.
SB 432 redefines the roles of the School Board and the district Superintendent, creating an opportunity for New Orleans to implement a reimagined school district in which:
- Parents choose the school best for their child
- Autonomous schools make unimpeded academic and personnel decisions on behalf of children
- The Superintendent authorizes schools to exist and regulates the fair treatment of students
- The School Board hires and fires the Superintendent, oversees the system’s financial health, and approves policy as needed
The risk going forward is one of execution:
- Will the Superintendent and School Board be willing to make the hard decisions necessary to promote excellence and equity for all students?
- How well will the Superintendent and the central office perform the current RSD functions?
On Tuesday night, by a vote of 7-0, the Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) directed their superintendent to allocate MFP money to schools as required by law. The impact will be to enact a new differentiated funding formula for OPSB charter schools, a formula that will also be used by the RSD for its New Orleans charters.
In response, Lusher and Lake Forest Elementary are now suing OPSB in federal court arguing that if OPSB funds them using this formula, the board will be violating their operating agreements and their rights under federal contract law.
How did we get here?
Last year, the Louisiana Legislature passed Act 467, which requires a single, differentiated funding formula for all OPSB and RSD charters.
The essence of Act 467:
Part 1 – Act 467 requires that RSD and OPSB charters be funded using a differentiated formula.
“The total amount of minimum foundation program formula funds allocated to charter schools that are located within the district shall be allocated using a district-level computation based on student characteristics or needs as determined by the state board.”
Part 2 – The Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE) will help bring together district stakeholders to develop the district level allocation.
In Case You Missed It (ICYMI) … Your mini news clippings
School Funding Formula for the City
By a 10-1 vote (with one abstention), the Act 467 Committee, comprised of local Orleans Parish educators and community members, voted in favor a new funding formula for all RSD and OPSB public schools. These local weights will be submitted to BESE for consideration at their March 3rd and 4th meetings.
As discussed in Educate Now!’s February 17 email, this Orleans-specific formula will allocate money to every RSD and OPSB student based upon certain local weights, and this money follows the student to the school where that student enrolls. These local weights provide extra money for students with special needs, overage students, English language learners, high school students and gifted and talented (G & T) students. The heaviest weight is for students with special needs, so schools that enroll low numbers of special needs students are likely to see less money under this new formula.
To protect schools from a significant drop in funding, the Committee proposed that in addition to the local weights, the formula will include a “phase in” clause, such that no school’s average MFP per pupil will fall below 98% of its 10/1/15 MFP average per pupil. There are an estimated 14 schools that would need phase in support of varying amounts, but no school will see a reduction greater than $185/student.
Educate Now! has received a lot of questions concerning information that Lusher and Franklin sent to their parents about the differentiated funding formula Orleans is working on, which will go before BESE in March. Unfortunately, the email circulated by the schools contains incomplete and wrong information.
The committee developing this funding formula, which includes OPSB schools, RSD schools, OPSB leadership, and RSD leadership, anticipates that the formula will include a clause such that no school loses more than a 2%. For Lusher, that 2% translates to a maximum reduction of $170/student, or around $291,000 not $1,200,000, as was stated in the email. For Franklin, the loss of revenues based on current student count is $155,000.
Looking Back: 2015
2015 was a pivotal year for public education in New Orleans. In retrospect, it will mark a turning point in creating a more united system of public schools and blurring the difference between OPSB and RSD schools in New Orleans.
Unifying our system of schools
In 2015, OPSB and the state addressed some core issues that had created schisms. Resolving these issues will create a more stable, equitable, and shared foundation for the city’s system of schools going forward.
OPSB turns a new page
In January 2015, Orleans Parish School Board (OPSB) finally selected a superintendent, Dr. Henderson Lewis. In March, Ira Thomas resigned from OPSB and subsequently pled guilty to taking bribes. With Thomas’ departure and a new superintendent, the OPSB quit fighting and supported Dr. Lewis’ efforts to reorganize its central office to better oversee a system of autonomous charter schools.
OPSB adopts key policies
- OneApp and Transportation: OPSB passed policy HA, which created clear and consistent policies for all OPSB charters, including the requirement that all OPSB charters participate in OneApp (as their charters renew) and provide transportation.
- Fund balance (reserves): OPSB made another, equally important policy change that received a lot less attention. It limited how it can spend its fund balance going forward, restricting more than 90% of the current fund balance ($45 million+) to emergencies and other “unforeseen, exceptional circumstances” and for the needs of the system as a whole (all public schools in Orleans Parish).
OPSB took a huge step forward last week by passing a strong charter school policy (Policy HA).
Policy HA was needed because OPSB did not have clear and consistent rules governing charter school operations. As a result, some OPSB charters participate in the city’s common enrollment system; others do not. Some provide transportation; others do not. And some have negotiated special neighborhood preferences that are different from the citywide zones that almost all other schools in the city use. These different rules fostered distrust between schools and confusion for parents trying to navigate the system of schools. (Note: The RSD requires all of its charter schools to participate in EnrollNOLA (OneApp) and to provide transportation.)
For OPSB to be a good authorizer and regulator of charter schools, it needed policy that created consistent rules for everyone and a framework for new charter schools. Policy HA lays an excellent foundation.
New Charter Schools: Going forward, all new charter schools authorized by OPSB:
- Must provide transportation.
- Must participate in the citywide enrollment system (OneApp/EnrollNOLA).
- Cannot have a neighborhood attendance zone different than the zones in the citywide enrollment plan.
- Cannot be academically selective.
- Can, as part of its initial charter application, have non-academic admission criteria, tied into its mission and scope. For example, Cypress Academy has a mission-specific focus on early intervention in reading and reserves spaces for students with dyslexia.