St. Louis Charter Families File Lawsuit on Desegregation Funding

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

Two families representing St. Louis' charter school students have filed a motion in federal court that would allow them to intervene as plaintiffs in a motion filed by the Saint Louis Public Schools Special Administrative Board (SAB).

The SAB is seeking to prevent a 2/3 cent sales tax that funds a desegregation settlement reached in 1999 from being used to fund the city's charter schools. So far, these schools have received $42 million from the 2/3 cent tax and are expected to receive an additional $8 million a year.

The current agreement states, as reported by Elisa Crouch of the St. Louis Dispatch, that the sales tax, which voters approved, was used exclusively on programs that offset the ramifications of the city's segregation policies. It helped fund magnet schools, busing, and early childhood education.

For ten years, however, the state also used money from this tax to calculate how much revenue to withhold from the district and redirect to charter schools. Now, the St. Louis district is asking for that practice to end, and it is requesting a reimbursement for more than $42 million that has been diverted from the district since 2006.

According to The Missouri Times, the Missouri Charter Public School Association has been pushing the SAB to drop the lawsuit by claiming that it will hurt charter schools that provide quality education options for students.

"We are confident that Judge Autrey will understand the importance of having the voice of charter public school parents and students in this litigation since the final impact could negatively impact their chosen public schools," said Douglas Thaman, the association's executive director. "I am hopeful this intervention by charter public school parents and children will encourage SLPS to recognize how irresponsible it is to try and shut down a sector of public schools that has so clearly contributed to the number of quality education options available to Saint Louis families. It would make so much more sense if we were all working together to continue improving public education. Our hope is they will do the right thing and drop the suit."

Some worry whether civil rights organizations, who are regular critic of charter schools, will side with the city's public school system. Dale Singer, a contributor St. Louis Public Radio, notes that of the nearly 10,000 students enrolled in St. Louis's charter school network, nearly two-thirds are African-American.

The intervention was filed on behalf of Ken Ross, Jr. and LeDiva Pierce, parents of two charter school students. They believe that all charter students have an interest in receiving equitable funding and ensuring quality education.

"My son is thriving at his charter school. It will be a tragedy for him, his brother who will be entering kindergarten in the Fall, for all children and the City if SLPS is successful is draining resources from charter schools," said Ross. "SLPS is trying to take us back to a time when there were no quality educational options in the City. We just cannot let that happen."

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