Friday, April 10, 2015
Supreme Court Rules for Charter Schools in Dispute With LAUSD
Justices Unanimously Reject District’s Method of Assigning Classroom Space
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A method used by the Los Angeles Unified School District to assign classroom space to charter schools, before a Los Angeles Superior Court judge enjoined it from doing so, violates Proposition 39, the California Supreme Court unanimously ruled yesterday.
Reversing Div. Five of this district’s Court of Appeal, the high court said the use of “norming ratios”—by which LAUSD allocated space to charter schools based on what it calculated as the districtwide student/teacher ratio in a given grade level—is inconsistent with a State Board of Education regulation enacted pursuant to the initiative.
California enacted its first Charter Schools Act in 1992. Proposition 39, enacted eight years later, was put on the ballot by charter school supporters in order to assist and encourage the development of charter schools.
Among other things, public school districts—which under the original act were only required to provide charter schools with facilities that were otherwise being unused—are now required to share their facilities fairly among all public school pupils, including those in charter schools. The State Board of Education is authorized to implement the requirement through rulemaking, which it did in 2002 through the adoption of California Code of Regulations, title 5, §11969.3.
In 2007 the California Charter Schools Association filed two lawsuits against LAUSD, alleging that the school district was violating the state rules by failing to provide facilities to charter schools in the same classroom-to-average-daily-attendance ratio as those provided to other students in the district.
Those claims were resolved by a settlement agreement that was to remain in effect until June 30, 2013. In 2010, however, the CCSA filed a complaint for breach of that agreement and asked for specific performance, a permanent injunction, and other equitable relief to enforce its terms.
The trial court ordered the school district to extend facilities offers to charter schools for the 2011-2012 school that submitted legally sufficient facilities requests and to make those and future offers Proposition 39-compliant during the term of the settlement agreement. It denied CCSA’s requests for injunctive and declaratory relief.
The issuance of that order was not challenged by the school district.
In 2011, the CCSA again filed a motion to enforce the trial court’s order with regard to its facilities offers for the 2012-2013 school year.
The association alleged that the district’s use of norming ratios violated subdivision (b)(1) of the regulations, which provides, in part:
“Facilities made available by a school district to a charter school shall be provided in the same ratio of teaching stations (classrooms) to [average daily attendance] as those provided to students in the school district attending comparison group schools.”
The regulations include a method for identifying those comparison group schools.
Trial Court Ruling
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Terry Green agreed with the CCSA and ordered that the school district not use norming ratios to reduce the number of classrooms offered to charter schools in the future. The Court of Appeal, however, said that the regulations were properly read as requiring the school district to provide its facilities to charter schools in a manner that will promote Proposition 39’s intent of public school facilities being shared fairly among all pupils, including those in charter schools.
But Justice Goodwin H. Liu, writing for the Supreme Court, said the district did not properly implement Proposition 39 and §11969.3.
“The regulations prescribe a specific, transparent method for deriving the ADA/classroom ratio to be applied in allocating classrooms to charter schools, thereby allowing charter schools and the public to readily verify whether a district has complied with the regulation.
“The District’s alternative would require a charter school either to simply accept the District’s assurance that its norming ratios produce reasonable equivalence in facilities between the charter school and its comparison group schools, or to compel the District through litigation to demonstrate reasonable equivalence. We doubt this is what the Board had in mind when it adopted section 11969.3(a).”
Indeed, Liu wrote, an approach similar to the use of norming ratios was considered, and rejected, by the Department of Education before it proposed the current rules.
The case was argued in the Supreme Court by David M. Huff of Orbach, Huff & Suarez for LAUSD and by James L. Arnone of Latham & Watkins for the CCAA.
Amici supporting LAUSD included the state school boards association, the California State PTA, the Los Angeles NAACP, and the San Diego and Oakland school districts. Support for CCSA came from charter school operators, a related nonprofit, Pacific Legal Foundation, Netflix founder Reed Hastings—who was president of the State Board of Education when the regulations at issue were written—and former Los Angeles Mayor Richard Riordan.
The case is California Charter Schools Association v. Los Angeles Unified School District, 15 S.O.S. 1792.
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