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The Classical Academies and other public charter schools have filed a class-action lawsuit challenging state education funding. Photo by Samantha Nelson
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Charter school leads class-action lawsuit against state education funding

REGION — A class-action lawsuit filed by three local public charter schools fighting state defunding has been certified to represent more than 300 public charter schools throughout the state.

Filed in September 2020 and led by The Classical Academies, River and Empire Springs charter schools and The Learning Choice Academy, the lawsuit Reyes v. State of California challenges the State of California’s decision to not fund newly enrolled students in “non-classroom based” public charter schools that specialize in providing at-home, remote or hybrid learning.

In California, a school is considered non-classroom based if more than 20% of learning occurs off-campus. These types of schools often serve students who are immune-compromised or hospitalized, students who have been bullied at other schools, students who are either academically behind or advanced, who are Olympic athletes, actors, homeless or who move frequently due to their parents being in the military.

Historically, California’s education funding followed the student, meaning that if a student leaves a public school for a public charter school, the funding for that particular student would follow them to the new school.

Last summer, the state decided to not fund new students at these particular types of public charter schools during the 2020-2021 school year.

“For the very first time ever, state funding didn’t follow the student,” said Cameron Curry, executive director at Classical Academies.

By that point, Classical Academies and other similar public charter schools had already enrolled students for that school year, meaning they would have to provide for these new students without the state funding they would have traditionally had.

The lawsuit asserts that 5-year-old Olena Reyes was waitlisted at Classical Academies due to the defunding move, preventing her from attending school with her older brother Santino and blocking access to a potentially beneficial education program that will help the young girl, who like her brother is on the autism spectrum.

Curry said the school, which has several campus locations throughout Escondido and Oceanside, has had to dip into its reserves to continue providing for the nearly 1,200 students it already enrolled throughout the summer last year before the state decided to defund non-classroom-based charter schools.

Regional charter schools saw an influx of students coming from public schools due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year, especially in the beginning when some school districts were slow to respond. Classical Academies on the other hand had pivoted quickly, Curry said.

“Parents weren’t getting anything from their local school districts,” he said. “When they heard Classical Academies’ students were meeting with teachers virtually, they thought, ‘I want that for my kid.’”

According to Classical Academies and its legal representatives, the state breached its constitutional, statutory and contractual obligations to fund each student’s education at the public school they choose.

Then last month, a state court ordered class certification of the lawsuit, making it the first class-action lawsuit involving charter schools in California.

The court’s order granting class certification is significant because a victory will apply to the state’s 308 non-classroom-based charter schools that serve nearly 200,000 students and ensure their right to be funded.

“We now carry the weight of 308 schools, which represents 29% of all charter public schools in the state with our litigation,” stated Paul Minney, an attorney with Young, Minney & Corr, LLP, who is representing the plaintiff schools. “This decision elevates these schools and validates the needs they all have for access to constitutionally guaranteed funding for students and their public education.”

Curry said he is looking forward to the lawsuit’s day in court, which is currently scheduled for July. Still, the fight may continue sometime after that hearing.

“I anticipate that we will win the case and that the state will appeal,” Curry said.

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