Charter Schools Want More Money From D.C.

     WASHINGTON (CN) - Charter schools sued the District of Columbia on Wednesday, claiming the District underfunds charter schools that serve 37,000 of the District's children.
     The DC Association of Charter Schools and two individual charter schools sued the District of Columbia, Mayor Vincent Gray, and the District's Chief Financial Officer Jeffrey Dewitt, in Federal Court.
     The charter schools claim that "every year the District of Columbia spends, on average, $1,600-$2,600 less in educational funding for each D.C. Charter School student than it spends on his or her DCPS [District of Columbia Public Schools] counterpart. Indeed, even an education adequacy study recently commissioned by defendants found that the funding of DCPS and D.C. Charter Schools was inequitable and recognized that many of defendants' actions violate the School Reform Act's requirement of 'uniform funding of operating expense for both DCPS and public charter schools.'"
     The state of the District's public schools became a national scandal in the 1990s. Many factors contributed to this, including the need for Congress to act in many aspects of the District's government and finances, due to the peculiar nature of the federal district.
     "To address these serious systemic problems, in 1996, Congress exercised its constitutional authority to act as the exclusive legislature for the District and enacted the D.C. School Reform Act, a comprehensive reform of D.C. public education that was signed into law by President Clinton on April 26, 1996," the complaint states. "Through the School Reform Act, Congress authorized the establishment of D.C. Charter Schools to provide District parents with an alternative to the District's traditional public schools. At the same time, Congress expressly required uniform funding for similarly situated students attending DCPS and D.C. Charter Schools."
     The charter schools claim the defendants violate the School Reform Act's requirement of equal per-student funding.
     They claim that the D.C. Council has enacted laws that "unlawfully conflict with and violate the School Reform Act's uniform funding requirement and violate the U.S. Constitution and the District of Columbia Home Rule Act[.] Defendants have failed to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to D.C. Charter Schools."
     They claim the District does this in many ways:
     by basing charter school funding on audited enrollment reports, while funding public school "on projected, and often inflated, student enrollment;"
     by providing supplemental funding to public schools, and not counting it in the per-pupil rate, while denying supplemental funding to charter schools;
     by paying some of the public schools' operating expenses without including it in the per-pupil funding;
     and by contributing to the public school pension fund.
     The charter schools seek declaratory judgment that the District violates the School Reform Act, the D.C. Home Rule Act, and the Constitution's Supremacy Clause. And they want the funding corrected by an injunction.
     They are represented by Carl Nichols with Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, and by Stephen Marcus, both of Washington, D.C.