September 23, 2013

Charter school victory! Georgia Supreme Court upholds charter schools' right to funds

By Joshua P. Thompson Senior Attorney

This morning brought great news from the Georgia Supreme Court.   The court ruled that Atlanta Public Schools cannot take away funds from charter schools in order to pay off their own pension liability.  This is an important victory for Georgia’s charter school students, as the decision reaffirms that charter schools cannot be treated as second class entities when it comes to educating Georgia’s public schools students.

This case arose out of a problem that affects many public schools across the country: unfunded pension liability.  The Atlanta Public School (APS) establishment guaranteed their employees millions — $550 million to be exact — in pensions.  Unfortunately, Atlanta Public Schools doesn’t have the money to pay.  So what did it do?  It decided to steal money that the legislature had designated for charter schools, and use that money to pay down its unfunded pension liability.  The charter schools, who did not cause the pension problem, and have no teachers that receive pensions from Atlanta Public Schools, were flabbergasted.   They sued, arguing that the charter school funding statute does not permit APS to steal the charter schools’ money in order to pay off obligations that the charter school had no hand creating.

PLF filed this amicus brief in Atlanta Public Schools v. Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School.  Our brief explained that APS’s attempt to take money away from the charter schools was just the latest in a long history of public school antagonism towards charter schools.  Public schools do not want competition, and try to undercut viable charter schools any chance they get.  Atlanta Public Schools tried to use the pension crisis to deny local charter schools the funds they were entitled to under the law.

The Georgia Supreme Court agreed with PLF and denied APS’s attempt to circumvent the law.  The court explained:

Because appellants’ subtraction of funds from the calculation of local revenue to cover a portion of APS’s unfunded pension liability circumvents the plain language of § 20-2-2068.1 (c) and deprives the start-up charter schools of funding to which they are legally entitled, we affirm the trial court’s order granting mandamus relief. The proper remedy for appellants’ opposition to the language of the local revenue funding formula as written lies within the General Assembly.

This is a great win for charter schools in Georgia.  Hopefully other school districts across the country will take this a signal to start treating charter schools fairly.

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