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Lawsuit alleging bias in funding of charter schools is ruled valid

Seven charter school students from Western New York took a step closer to gaining a day in court Wednesday when State Supreme Court Justice Donna M. Siwek ruled that a discrimination lawsuit they filed against New York State is valid.

Siwek rejected an attempt by the state to dismiss the suit and ruled that litigation can proceed regarding allegations by the plaintiffs that the formula for state funding of charter schools is unconstitutionally discriminatory. The parties have standing and sufficiently alleged that they were harmed, Siwek ruled.

Susan T. Dwyer, lead attorney for the plaintiffs, lauded Siwek’s decision in a statement late Wednesday.

“I think I can speak for every student in a charter school in New York today, and every other one who would like to be, in saying how encouraged we are by this landmark decision which acknowledges that charter school students have a right to ask the court to recognize their constitutional rights as public school students in this state,” Dwyer said.

The suit, filed by the parents of the students and a national charter school advocacy organization, alleges that charter schools such as those the students attend are funded at a lower rate per pupil – about 60 cents per dollar – than traditional public schools. That, they contend, is “unfair and unbalanced.”

The lawsuit seeks a judge’s order to compel the state to revise its funding formula to provide charter schools with he ability to offer a “sound basic education” to students as is required under state education law.

The suit alleges that the state’s approach to funding charter schools fails to fund facilities. That means the charter schools are forced to use money that should be allocated for student educational programs to fund the physical plant.

That, they allege, violates the charter school students’ right to equal protection under the law and is disproportionately harmful to minority charter school students; about 90 percent of the enrollment in charter schools are minorities, compared with about 42 percent in noncharter public schools. In the Buffalo Public Schools, about 68 percent are black or Hispanic.

Siwek dismissed the claim against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who was named as one of multiple defendants in the lawsuit, which also includes the state, the Legislature, the budget director, the Board of Regents and others.

Representatives for the plaintiffs pointed out similar claims raised by charter school parents in four others states – North Carolina, New Jersey, Arizona and Texas – all failed to make it as far as this case brought by the Buffalo- and Rochester-area parents.