In a lawsuit heard on Monday in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C., the coalition of D.C. charter schools argued before the judges that the city is unequally funding the education of over 90,000 district school students in violation of the law.
D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools had got an adverse ruling from a federal judge in 2017. About half of D.C.’s public schools, which are funded publicly but operate privately, come under charter schools.
“Since the inception of public charters, charters have only been asking that the D.C. government not privilege one sector over the other sector. This is an opportunity to do right by all students in the District,” said Irene Holtzman, the executive director of FOCUS, a charter advocacy organization.
D.C. allocates $3,124 per student for charter schools which is more than the funds allocated for traditional schools. However, D.C. public schools get buildings from the city but the charter schools have to themselves acquire and bear costs of maintaining their school buildings.
The lawsuit argues that the traditional public schools also get support from government agencies like Department of General Services, which provides support for maintenance of facilities, and legal services are provided by the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia.
“D.C. Public Schools have different responsibilities as a city agency responsible for welcoming students into their school of right, no matter when and no matter how many,” said Cathy Reilly, the executive director of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators.
As per the lawsuit filed by the charter schools, every charter school student per year gets $2,150 less than what the traditional public students get, apart from other services extended by the city agencies to the traditional schools.
Jason Lederstein, the city’s attorney, argued in the court that the District is allowed by the Home Rule Act to make independent decisions on ways of funding its schools. “You can’t come to a federal court and say there was a violation of the School Reform Act,” Lederstein argued in the court.
D.C. School Reform Act, which was passed by the Congress in 1995, allowed the charter schools to open in the District. As per this law, the city is supposed to uniformly fund charter and other traditional schools based on their enrolment.