Charter schools sue California to get full funding for new year
Four charter schools, including one in Huntington Beach and another with a campus in San Bernardino, are suing the California Department of Education and state leaders over a funding formula they say cuts them off from essential state money.
The four charters are among a number of schools in California that face financial problems because of what they claim is an unfair formula recently established by the state. Specifically, the schools expect their fall enrollment to exceed what they had in February, yet the state is allocating school funding for the upcoming year based on the February 2020 enrollment numbers.
Last month, the dispute prompted the four schools to file a lawsuit, in Sacramento, naming Gov. Gavin Newsom and State Superintendent Tony Thurmond as defendants.
Meanwhile, state officials are looking to amend the state law that sets the funding cap. Charter school advocates said Thursday, Aug. 13, that they’ve formed a coalition, Fund All Kids. One of their goals is to make sure any funding changes apply to all schools.
“We’re trying to galvanize people to keep pressure on Sacramento to fix this defunding law. That’s what we’re calling it, because that’s what they’re doing,” said Sarah Bach, founder and executive director of the Sycamore Creek Community Charter in Huntington Beach.
Students at Sycamore Creek are among 19 plaintiffs named in the lawsuit. Other plaintiffs include students from Fortune School, a network of schools that includes the Hardy Brown College Prep School in San Bernardino. (The other two schools named in the lawsuit are John Adams Academy, with campuses in Roseville, Lincoln and El Dorado Hills, near Sacramento, and Voices College-Bound Language Academies in northern California. )
Under Senate Bill 98, a budget trailer bill approved in June, school funding is capped based on the number of students schools had enrolled last February. At the time, Sycamore Creek, a new school, had 66 students – about half what it expects for the new academic year.
“We would be trying to educate twice the number of students with half the amount of state funding,” Bach said.
Leaders with the new coalition estimate that the funding rule affects nearly 53,000 students statewide and that schools with growing enrollment are losing more than $542 million in public money that otherwise would be transferred from students’ old schools to their new schools.
“The state’s actions violate the constitutional right of my students to a free and equitable public education and our political leaders need to take immediate action to correct this situation,” Margaret Fortune, president and CEO of Fortune School, wrote in a statement. Her schools serve primarily Black students.
“Defunding these children’s education and calling it equity is a slap in the face to their parents who have chosen their child’s school for a good reason,” Fortune wrote. “State funding should follow the child to the school that is educating them. That’s what’s fair and right.”
When Newsom signed the law on June 29, he acknowledged the law did not take into account schools that are growing and he urged legislators to “pursue targeted solutions to these potential disruptions.”
The state Department of Finance plans to offer amendments to SB-98. But those amendments may only change the equation for schools that have in-person classes and not year-round online schools.
California Charter School Association officials wrote in a letter Tuesday to their members that they are “deeply concerned” that year-round online schools are left out.
“This is particularly troubling because many nonclassroom-based schools have been quick to respond and offer their online and distance learning programs throughout the state during the pandemic – even when faced with reduced funding last spring,” association officials wrote in their Capitol Update letter.