Like many public school systems, Atlanta Public Schools (APS) has a massive unfunded pension liability problem. APS tried to tackle that obligation by transferring $40 million dollars from its local revenue and to the pension liability. But APS’s local revenue is the primary source of several charter schools’ funding under a clearly defined, statutory funding formula. APS must apply the formula and it may not deduct its pension liability expenses before it does so.
When APS removed the money it cost charters almost $3 million dollars for the school year — and up to hundreds of thousands of dollars per school. That was money that those charters — already operating with less funds and facilities than their traditional school counterparts — simply could not afford to lose. To make matters worse, the affected charter schools’ employees have never benefited from that pension system, nor will they benefit from it in the future. The charters successfully sued APS at the lower court level and APS filed an appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.
Today PLF stood up for school choice by filing an amicus brief in support of the charter schools. Though charter schools are a type of public school and receive public dollars, they often perform better than their traditional public school counterparts in the areas of student performance and parent satisfaction. There are many reasons for this. One important factor is that charters have more flexibility to operate outside of the burdensome public education bureaucracy. But innovative educators need a funding baseline to continue to succeed. APS cannot deprive charters of that baseline for survival whenever it experiences financial woes.
The present funding dispute isn’t the first time Georgia’s charter schools have faced serious threats. Last November, the education establishment campaigned against an amendment that would expand the charter-approval authority – something once limited to local school boards – to the legislature. The voters approved the amendment. And when the state legislature tried to address facility disparities by requiring districts to offer unused facilities to charter schools, the districts simply ignored the law.
The Peach State’s highest court will consider these arguments. The parties will present their oral arguments later this month.