NC Charter Schools Sue For Equal Funding
Special Report - September 25, 2009
A group of North Carolina charter schools, students, and parents from several counties have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the State’s system for funding public charter schools differently than traditional public schools. The plaintiffs are seeking equal access to capital outlay funds from state and local governments that are set aside for school buildings, buses, and equipment, and that are currently available only to traditional public schools. The North Carolina Institute for Constitutional Law (NCICL) filed the declaratory judgment action in Mecklenburg County on September 21 on behalf of seven charter schools and 34 families with children in those schools.
The claim names 15 government parties as defendants including the State of North Carolina, Mecklenburg, Union, Rutherford, Cleveland, Nash, Edgecombe, and Halifax counties, and the related school boards in each county. “Charter schools are public schools,” the suit charges. “Yet, they receive disparate and discriminatory treatment in North Carolina by and through a discriminatory funding policy permitted and enforced by the defendants.” According to the NCICL, “The suit seeks to address inequities and discriminatory provisions of North Carolina law which disfavor public charter school students as compared to their friends and colleagues in the traditional public school system.”
The North Carolina Constitution directs that “The General Assembly shall provide … a general and uniform system of free public schools.” The lawsuit argues that denying capital outlay funds to public charter schools is a violation of this constitutional mandate of uniformity. “Creating the public charter school system, without providing a uniform opportunity to those students to receive capital outlay funds from counties and local school administrative units iseven in its simplest termsfundamentally not uniform treatment,” according to a statement from Justice Robert Orr, retired North Carolina Supreme Court Justice and one of the NCICL attorneys working on the case. “Public charter students should have a uniform opportunity to get the funding that traditional public schools get, plain and simple.”
The capital outlay funds come from a number of sources, including corporate income taxes and the state-run lottery. North Carolina passed the existing charter school law in 1996. Charter schools are public schools run by private boards and exempt from many rules that are imposed on traditional public schools. As such, they are seen as being more conducive to testing innovative learning techniques and being able to serve more specific student populations, most notably at-risk students. North Carolina’s charter school law has come under fire recently from U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan because it limits the number of charter schools allowed in the state to 100. See our recent article on the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools’ proposal of a model charter school law.
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