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Judge Rules in Favor of Charter Schools in Pension Lawsuit

Atlanta Public Schools must give charter schools $2.8 million in funding they were due to receive this year.

Atlanta Public Schools violated state law when it withheld $2.8 million in funding from a group of Atlanta charter schools and put it toward its unfunded pension liability obligations, a judge ruled Wednesday.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Wendy L. Shoob ruled that APS give the money to the affected schools and that the district must follow state funding guidelines as outlined for charter schools in the future.

"I think the direct and clear message is that they have to comply with the law, which is a good thing for everyone," Rocco E. Testani, the attorney representing the charter schools told East Atlanta Patch. "That’s all the charter schools wanted out of this."

(The ruling affects eight start-up charter school groups, not schools with conversion charters.)

It was not immediately clear if the district will appeal; a spokesman did not have an immediate comment on the suit.

The $2.8 million break out as follows:

  • Atlanta Neighborhood Charter School: $405,296
  • Atlanta Preparatory Academy: $291,068
  • Drew Charter: $578,514
  • Intown Academy: $190,063
  • Kipp: $785,724
    • Kipp Strive
    • Kipp Ways
    • Kipp Vision
  • Kindezi: $116,598
  • Latin Academy: $51,030
  • Wesley International Academy: $398,492

Earlier this year the district said its traditional public and charter schools had to absorb a 9.5 percent cut in funding because property tax revenue fell.

The district also said it no longer would fund the charter schools from the pension fund balance, for an additional 6.5 percent reduction in funding to the charter schools.

However, Shoob's ruled that state funding formula guidelines say what local districts can and can't do and that APS violated state law.

"Georgia law lays out a specific set of requirements for the funding of start-up charter schools," said Testani, who heads the Education, Government and Civil Rights Team group at Sutherland Asbill & Brennan LLP.

"The charter schools are entitled to a certain stream of funds," he said, explaining charters don't have access to special purpose local option sales tax — or SPLOST — funding. What's more, unlike their traditional public school counterparts, some charter schools in non APS-owned buildings such Wesley International Academy in Custer/McDonough/Guice, have to pay rent for the buildings from which they operate.

The funding drop is one factor which led to the closure of Tech High School at the end of the 2011-12 school year.

Other schools, like ANCS, have had to increase their class sizes and seek out more grants to make up the revenue shortfalls.

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