LA’s BESE Could Create More Charters, Despite Funding Questions

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Louisiana's top school board is poised Tuesday to create new public charter schools, despite questions about how the state would pay for them amid ongoing litigation that has put financing for more than 30 similar schools in doubt.

         The outstanding uncertainty didn't slow the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, known as BESE, from advancing applications to authorize more of the schools. A committee of the board approved four applications. The full board was set to consider that recommendation Tuesday and seemed likely to approve at least some of them to open in the fall.

         But a lawsuit has threatened the financing for such schools.

         Superintendent of Education John White supported three of the applications that received committee support, saying the charter organizations had gone through a rigorous review process that ensured high quality. He and charter school supporters said the lawsuit shouldn't stall worthy applications.

         "We should use discretion, but we cannot wait to serve the needs of at-risk children," White told the board.

         Charter schools are public schools, funded with taxpayer dollars but operated by independent organizations under agreements approved by state or local education officials.

         An appellate court ruled this month that money from Louisiana's public school funding formula — which determine how state and local tax dollars flow to public school districts — can't pay for the schools granted charters by BESE, rather than local school boards.

         A number of local education officials and a teachers union, the Louisiana Association of Educators, argued in lawsuits that funding the state-chartered schools through a formula meant to pay for local school districts violates the Louisiana Constitution. The 1st Circuit Court of Appeal agreed in a 3-2 decision.

         The effect of that ruling is on hold, while the case continues to wind its way to the Louisiana Supreme Court.

         Representatives of the union and local school boards said BESE should not authorize new charter schools without a decision from the Supreme Court about how the schools can be financed.

         "We have to be responsible as far as what we do in making promises to children and parents," said Debbie Meaux, president of the Louisiana Association of Educators. "At this point, no one knows how that case will turn out."

         Lawmakers could opt to fund the charters separately from the formula, but it's unclear if they would choose to do so. Such a decision would require full state financing, rather than paying for the schools with a mix of state and local tax dollars. That would boost costs for Louisiana's operating budget, as the state struggles with recurring financial problems.

         – by AP Reporter Melinda Deslatte


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