Education Reform

California: Judge Rules Against Online Charter Schools in Class Action Funding Lawsuit

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Kristen Take of the San Diego Union-Tribune reports on a setback for online charter schools. A judge ruled against their class-action lawsuit that sought more funding from the state. The judge cited the online charters’ history of fraud and abuse. Earlier this year, the owners of the A3 online charter chain pled guilty to charges against them for self-dealing and agreed to repay the state $215 million dollars for falsely inflating their enrollment.

She wrote:

A California Superior Court judge ruled against hundreds of online and other non-classroom based charter schools in a class-action lawsuit last week, declaring that the state did not wrongfully deprive the schools of education funding during the pandemic.

The ruling, handed down July 27, was a blow to the schools, which are called non-classroom-based charter schools because at least 20 percent of the learning occurs off campus, often online or at home.

Three San Diego-based charter school networks — The Classical Academies, The Learning Choice Academy and Springs Charter Schools — and the parents of several enrolled and waitlisted students sued the state of California last fall, saying the state did not equitably fund their charter schools by accounting for the new students they enrolled during the last school year.

The lawsuit was deemed a class-action petition representing about 300 non-classroom based charter schools across California that enrolled about 200,000 students, said Lee Rosenberg, attorney for the plaintiffs.

Those schools took on about 25,000 new students last school year that weren’t paid for by the state, he said.

The state typically funds all public schools, including charter schools, on a per-student basis, which means the more students a school enrolls, the higher its state funding.

Last year, because of the pandemic and related school closures, the state initially froze public school funding levels to stabilize schools’ and districts’ finances.

Then state officials unfroze the funding and gave K-12 public schools funding for their existing and newly enrolled new students last year — except for non-classroom based charter schools, which provided mostly online, home school and non-traditional education services. Their funding remained frozen for existing students.

State leaders chose not to fund new students at those non-classroom based charter schools because there is a history of fraud and abuse by some of those kinds of schools, the state attorney general wrote in a recent court filing.

“The state determined that (non-classroom based charter schools) raised major concerns for fraud and abuse and inferior education and decided to limit the incentive for expanding that model of education during the pandemic while the state considered the underlying policy around (non-classroom based charter schools),” Attorney General Rob Bonta wrote in a June court filing signed by him and others in his office.

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