Two charter-school parents seek to join lawsuit that could disrupt funding for their schools | St. Louis Public Radio

Two charter-school parents seek to join lawsuit that could disrupt funding for their schools

May 31, 2016

Updated at 12:50 p.m. June 1 with response from St. Louis Public Schools: Two parents who say their children have thrived in charter schools after struggling in St. Louis Public Schools want to have their voices heard in a lawsuit that could force charters in the city to lose tens of millions of dollars.

The parents filed a motion in federal court Tuesday asking to intervene in the lawsuit filed in April by the city public schools against the way proceeds from a 1999 city sales tax for education has been distributed by the state.

The city public schools say they should be the only ones receiving that money, and they want $42 million that has been paid to charter schools over the past 10 years to be returned to SLPS. If that happens, charter schools say they may end up bankrupt.

Though the lawsuit filed by SLPS and other plaintiffs targets the state’s Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, not the charter schools directly, charters have been vocal in opposing the move. They have actively lobbied the Special Administrative Board that runs the city schools to drop the suit, but the board has refused.

The parents whose names are on the new motion — Ken Ross Jr. and LaDiva Pierce — said in interviews Tuesday that charters have helped their children succeed after they were doing poorly in city schools.

“Since he’s been at Confluence Academy the last few years, he has really grown by leaps and bounds,” Ross said of his son Kaebrin, 11, who is at Confluence’s Old North campus. Another son, Ken Ross III, is scheduled to enter kindergarten at the charter school in the fall.

Ross noted that Kaebrin has special needs that teachers at Confluence have paid much more attention to than his earlier teachers at Hickey Elementary School did.

“They didn’t care,” Ross said, noting that Kaebrin tested far behind where he should have been when he enrolled at Confluence. “They were just passing him along and lying about his development.”

He said all St. Louis children need alternatives for their education, especially students with disabilities like his son.

Credit St. Louis Public Schools

“There are so many children out there that need the efforts of the charter schools,” he said, “because the city public schools are not doing their job.

“I’m not sure if it’s individual teachers, or it’s the way they teach, or they just don’t care whatsoever. But from what I’ve seen, it’s like the teachers and administrators of the St. Louis city public schools just do not care about the students.”

Pierce said she has three children who have been in charters their entire school career. But she said her experience with an older son made her distrustful of the education provided by the St. Louis Public School system.

“I’m not a big St. Louis Public fan when it comes to education,” she said. “I firmly believe that a charter school is better for kids.”

On Wednesday, the city schools released this statement in response to the filing:

"Since late 2008, we’ve attempted to resolve this issue with the State of Missouri, which is the entity responsible for enforcing the Desegregation Settlement Agreement. We have a fiduciary responsibility to taxpayers in our district who fund our school, and the State’s inaction has deprived students in St. Louis Public Schools of significant funding to improve our programs, staff and facilities and address the impact of segregation in our city.

"The SAB is reviewing the recent filing by a third party and does not have further comment."

Seeking alternatives

The parents’ motion repeated the rationale that the state and the charter schools have maintained since the suit was filed: The proceeds from the 1999 sales tax were designed to aid any public school students in the city, not just the St. Louis Public Schools system.

But one of the filings says, none of the parties in the case filed last month adequately represents the interests of parents and children now involved with charter schools.

“Since the interests of the Charter Public School parents and children are actually different from the other party’s interests,” the motion says, “and the harms they will suffer are unique and unrepresented by the current parties, they should be permitted to intervene.”

A filing in support of the parents adds:

“The reason that charter public schools have received the funds is that they are educating Mr. Ross’s children and Ms. Pierce’s children, as well as thousands of other children that would otherwise be educated in the district. DESE has applied the law consistent with legislative intention to make certain that the children enrolled in charter public schools (including Ms. Pierce and Mr. Ross’s children) receive adequate funding for their education.

“This does not create a disproportionate adverse financial impact upon the Special Administrative Board. If the educational offerings provided by the schools under the oversight of the Special Administrative Board were more attractive to students, they would receive more state aid under the current funding formula.”

'There are so many children out there that need the efforts of the charter schools, because the city public schools are not doing their job.' — Ken Ross Jr., parent

In their filing, Ross put the argument in much more personal terms.

“Transferring my children to another school,” the motion says, “or moving my family out of the district would be difficult for me and my children. It would disrupt my children’s education and their academic achievements. Any such transition would have an especially severe impact on Kaebrin giving his special educational needs.”

The motions say that of the nearly 10,000 students enrolled in charter schools in the city, nearly two-thirds are African-American, and the long-running desegregation case that led to the 1999 sales tax was designed to help improve education for black students.

What would Pierce do if the lawsuit succeeds, charters have to pay back the money and the result is bankruptcy and closure?

“Education in the city is much better than it was 15 years ago,” Pierce said. “None of us wants to see that undone.

“If they can’t go to a charter school, I would want to move to the county and put them in county schools. They’ll never return to St. Louis Public Schools if it’s up to me.”

Follow Dale on Twitter: @dalesinger