Fight over school funding formula heats up

Fight over school funding formula heats up

NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - The fight over a new funding formula for New Orleans schools heats up as two charter schools have filed a federal lawsuit challenging it. Now, some parents are firing back with their own lawsuit, saying not adopting the formula violates the civil rights of minority and special needs children.

Chris and Jennifer Lyman are fighting for their son, Bower, and other New Orleans students with special needs.

"We believe that this lawsuit will give the families a voice in the proceedings which are very important to the families, a voice for fairness," said Chris Lyman.

"This funding formula will give families an opportunity to choose the schools they want their child to go to and that they will have the choice of many schools, not just a few schools, that their children will be adequately funded in any school they choose," said Jennifer Lyman.

The Lymans; their attorney Paul Pastorek, who is the former State Superintendent of Education; and three other families are now taking their fight over a new school funding formula to a federal courtroom. They want the Orleans Parish School Board to adopt the formula. They argue that not doing so discriminates against minority and special needs children.

"There are significant increases of dollars that will go to special needs kids, Hispanic kids, and kids who are over-aged, and it's based on the cost of actually educating them, and we would like to see the distribution of money be based on the cost not based on any other type of thing," said Pastorek. "And we think if it's not based on the cost and it doesn't fully fund those children, then there are serious civil rights issues. The formula went to the Orleans Parish School Board for approval a few weeks ago, the board did not decide to approve it, but, decided to delegate that to the superintendent. We understand the superintendent is supportive of it and we're happy for that, but what we believe in this lawsuit is that the Orleans Parish School Board should take an action, a vote, and vote to support the formula as it was proposed."

Lake Forest and Lusher Charter Schools have filed a federal lawsuit against the Orleans Parish School Board challenging the new funding formula. They say it's unconstitutional and changes the amount of money given to schools for special education and gifted programs.

"The biggest threat to us and to charter schools is that this idea that we're going to have a separate New Orleans formula applicable only in New Orleans threatens our contracts. It says that our contracts can't be relied upon, that the funding that our contracts guarantee to us can't be relied upon," said James Brown who represents the charter schools. "To say 'no, charter schools can't be independent anymore, they can't rely upon their contracts, their funding is going to be whatever Superintendent Lewis decides it's going to be from year to year,' how can a charter school operate if it can't predict what its funding is going to be? If every year one individual can decide in his own discretion what it's going to be?"

The parents in favor of the formula filed a federal complaint Monday in response to the charter schools lawsuit asking that there be immediate action by the Orleans Parish School Board to approve the new formula.

Last month, the Orleans Parish School Board adopted a resolution giving Superintendent Dr. Henderson Lewis Jr. the authority to implement the formula. We reached out the the School Board Monday about the latest developments. The Orleans Parish School Board and Dr. Lewis released this statement:

"To ensure a smooth transition during the proposed phase-in plan for the student funding formula agreed upon by the working group, the OPSB and RSD will hold joint technical meetings for public school finance administrators in New Orleans during the week of April 11. The OPSB and RSD will follow up individually with each school after those meetings to answer specific questions and provide ongoing information."

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