Mecklenburg Charter Schools Win Payments
Special Report - February 7, 2008
The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School System (CMS) under-funded five charter public schools in its district and must pay the schools what it owes, according to a North Carolina Court of Appeals ruling on February 5. The three-judge panel said in its decision that, “Charter schools are entitled to an amount equal to the per pupil amount of all money contained in the local current expense fund.”
The case involved a lawsuit filed in 2005 by five charter schools (Sugar Creek, Kennedy, Crossroads, Metrolina Scholars Academy, and Carolina International School) against CMS. The charter schools charged CMS with using an improper system to appropriate funds to schools and with under-funding the charter schools for the previous four fiscal years. At issue in the case is the fact that CMS did not share with the charter schools funds received for the “Bright Beginnings” pre-school program and a “High School Challenge” grant that the school system placed in the “local current expense fund.” By law, dollars placed in this fund are to be divided on a per pupil basis between traditional public schools and charter public schools within the local school system. The charter schools also argued that the way CMS has calculated the number of students in charter schools vs. traditional public schools is unfair and resulted in fewer dollars than required being appropriated to the charter schools.
In September 2006, a Superior Court judge agreed that the method CMS used to calculate “the per pupil local current expense appropriation is inconsistent with” state law, and ordered CMS to include the “High School Challenge” grant money in the funds it appropriates between charter schools and public schools. But the court said CMS was not required to give the charter schools a portion of the Bright Beginnings money.
In its February 5 ruling, the N.C. Court of Appeals affirmed most of the Superior Court’s decision in the case, but ruled that CMS also owes the charter schools a portion of the funds allocated to Bright Beginnings. The appeals court said, “the trial court erred by excluding the portion of the Board’s current local expense appropriations used for Bright Beginnings from the amounts that should have been apportioned between CMS and the Charter Schools.”
“It is time to stop treating North Carolina’s charter public schools as if they are second class to traditional public schools,” said John Rustin, North Carolina Family Policy Council vice president and director of government relations. “Charter schools have a right to fair funding and equal treatment by the state and local education establishments, and this ruling by the North Carolina Appeals Court has affirmed that right.”
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