The Committee and Lewis Baach File Amicus Brief on Behalf of Parents and Education Advocates Throughout the District in a DC School Funding Case

The Committee’s Education Project, with Jeffrey Robinson and Elizabeth Marvin at Lewis Baach, LLP, filed an amicus brief on September 15, 2016 to protect funding for traditional public schools and ensure that public and charter schools are funded on an equitable basis. The brief was filed on behalf of local DC education organizations, advocates and parents throughout every Ward in a school funding case brought by The DC Association of Chartered Schools and two DC charter schools. Notably, some of the parents in the amicus group we represent have had children in both DCPS and in public charter schools, and all of the individuals and organizations in the amicus group support a strong system of by-right neighborhood schools supplemented by quality school choice alternatives.

The lawsuit challenges the current funding for public charter schools and DC Public Schools by attacking the authority of the DC Council to make equitable adjustments for the benefit of all public school students to the Uniform Per Student Funding Formula (“UPSFF”) under the School Reform Act of 1995 by Congress (“SRA”). We support the Council’s authority to make equitable adjustments. Without this authority, students in traditional public schools may face funding shortfalls while at the same time charters increase profits and reserves.

The Charter plaintiffs filed a motion for summary judgment in the case on June 24, 2016. They claim that the DC Council has not followed the original SRA of 1995 passed by Congress and the UPSFF developed by the Council in 1998 by keeping certain expenditures for DCPS out of the calculation of the UPSFF. The Charters estimate that DCPS received nearly $770 million more than charters over the past eight years because those items were not included in the UPSFF. While they are not seeking recovery of those past amounts, if all of these exceptions were included in the UPSFF in the future, it could translate into up to $100 million more each year for charters, and potentially $100 million less for DCPS schools each year. As a higher percentage of impoverished, at risk and special education students are in DCPS schools rather than charter schools, a potential budget cut of that proportion could be devastating for the most vulnerable students in DCPS neighborhood schools.

On behalf of the District defendants, the DC Attorney General filed a brief opposing the charter plaintiffs’ motion and supporting a cross motion for summary judgment in the District’s favor on September 9, 2016, arguing that the plain language of the SRA does not require strict mathematical parity between the per pupil funding for charters and for DCPS. It also demonstrated, under the Home Rule Act, that the DC Council has the authority to make necessary changes to congressional acts that solely affect District residents, including the SRA and the UPSFF.

The WLC and Lewis Baach amicus brief supporting the DC Attorney General’s cross motion gives examples where charter proponents recognized the authority of the Council by advocating SRA and UPSFF funding changes by the Council that benefited the charter schools. It also demonstrates that the charter sector in DC has a surplus of $300 million in reserve, so the charters can hardly argue that charter schools have been underfunded. Finally, the brief illustrates the equitable reasons why the expenses in issue for DCPS are not expenses that the charters have, so they must be considered outside of the UPSFF.

The DC Council also filed an amicus brief in support of the DC Attorney General’s cross motion for summary judgment. Among other things, it revealed that the DC Council actually drafted and passed its own school reform act before Congress did in 1995, and that Congress passed a lightly modified version of the Council’s act as the SRA of Congress just 10 days later.

The charter plaintiffs’ reply brief in support of their motion for summary judgment and their opposition to the District defendants’ cross-motion is due October 31, 2016. The District defendants’ reply is due December 9, 2016. If the court decides to hear oral argument on the motions, it likely will be scheduled at some time in the months following that last filing.

Notable court documents:

September 16, 2016: Amicus Brief by WLC and Lewis Baach, LLP, on behalf of DC education advocates and parents supporting the Defendants’ Cross Motion for Summary Judgment and Opposing Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

September 9, 2016: Brief by DC Attorney General supporting Defendants’ Cross Motion for Summary Judgment and Opposing Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment.

September 9, 2016: Amicus Brief of the DC Council supporting the Defendants’ Cross Motion for Summary Judgment and Opposing Plaintiff’s Motion for Summary Judgment.

June 24, 2016: Plaintiffs’ Brief supporting their Motion for Summary Judgment.

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