The Washington Post’s Perry Stein reported last week that the ruling issued almost exactly a year ago by a federal judge against the FOCUS coordinated charter school funding inequity lawsuit brought by Washington Latin PCS, Eagle Academy PCS, and the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools, has been appealed. A federal judge heard oral arguments on November 5th that mostly revolved around whether it is appropriate that the matter be heard in federal court. The original legal action by the plaintiffs claimed that charter schools receive less money in revenue from the city compared to the regular schools, a figure that has totaled $770 million from 2008 to 2015, and equates to $1,600 to $2,600 per pupil every year.
The supplemental payments to DCPS have come mostly in the form of services the regular schools receive for free that charters do not, such as building maintenance and legal assistance.
The most significant information coming out of Ms. Stein’s story is that legal representation for the charter schools is now being provided by an attorney from WilmerHale, a law firm handling the case on a pro bono basis. The attorney replaces Stephen Marcus, who was intimately involved in this lawsuit even before it was brought before the court four years ago.
The charter school argument is based upon the School Reform Act. Passed by Congress and incorporated into local law by the D.C. Council, it states that all financial support for public schools, both charter and traditional, must come through the Uniform Per Student funding formula. This means that the additional no-charge benefits that DCPS has been receiving over the past twenty years are illegal.
The current situation is unjust and is harming charter schools’ ability to care for the almost 44,000 children sitting it its classrooms.
It is, in fact, difficult to find a more straightforward public policy. However, you are in luck. Because on this dark and cold November morning I have found one more, a legal rule that I consider practically a tie in clarity with the dictate on the manner in which our schools receive their operating cash. Ready, here it is:
All excess DCPS buildings will be offered to charter schools on a right of first offer basis.
As I pointed out yesterday, it is estimated that there is approximately one million square feet of vacant or underutilized DCPS facility space to which charters cannot get access. An empty site has not been turned over to charters for about four years. This is severely negatively impacting their ability to expand and replicate. Now I will ask you a really simple question. It is early so I don’t want to make it too difficult. If charters can sue over illegal funding should not the sector also mount a court battle over access to physical structures?
I’ll await your response.