Virtual or “distance” learning is frequently being described these days as second best. One apparent result: the denial of millions in funding.
Three area school systems emphasizing the use of distance/hybrid types of learning have filed a class-action suit versus Governor Gavin Newsom and the state legislature, charging failure to fund not only the virtual approach but also the education of all California students.
The lawsuit contends that the state has changed the rules on charter school funding after enrollment decisions were made; thus refusing to fund newly enrolled students at the state’s non-classroom-based public charter schools.
Leaders from The Classical Academies (Escondido/Vista/Oceanside), Springs Charter Schools (Vista) and The Learning Choice Academy (San Diego) are joining a coalition which contends that SB-98 and SB-820 – California’s new state funding laws – fail to provide funding for all growing public schools.
The school systems filing the new lawsuit saying that they have enrolled 2,000 new students – many the result of challenges by the pandemic — representing $20.9 million in withheld financing. They are a small portion of California’s 310 non-classroom-based schools.
In California, a school is considered non-classroom based if more than 20% of learning happens off campus. These schools say they offer a range of options from fully virtual to an on-campus/at-home learning hybrid, all with teacher support.
“Schools that are best serving families in a time of unprecedented challenges are being left behind by the state,” said Cameron Curry, CEO of The Classical Academies. He suggests that the shortfall approved by state legislators was “very intentional” because it aligns with the desires of teachers’ unions and traditional educational programs.
But he says, “In a year where every school is a non-classroom-based school, how can California justify not fully funding the education of students enrolled in a non-classroom-based program?”
He notes that The Classical Academies alone experienced a 26% growth in enrollment, from 4,600 students to 5,800, resulting in a shortfall of $10 million. As a result, the system will have to draw on its reserves and seek some additional bank financing.
The lawsuit piggy-backs on one filed in July — Samaiya Atkins v. State of California — by four public school organizations, challenging the constitutionality of SB-98, the state’s original budget deal. That lawsuit charges that SB-98 withheld funding for any growing public school, potentially resulting in over $542 million in public financing being withheld. And it will not fund any new students at non-classroom based public schools.
Cameron says the lawsuit has a simple basis: the state constitution requiring full public school funding. He adds, “Let’s have the money follow the students.”
“California is failing to fulfill a basic promise to its students,” says Margaret Fortune, president/CEO of Fortune School (Sacramento), one of the plaintiffs in the July lawsuit. “By funding only some public school options, the state is shutting out families from what is best for their child.”
The new plaintiffs are joining the Fund All Kids coalition which charges that SB-820 allows schools declining in enrollment to keep funding for students no longer attending these schools and fails to provide funds for increased enrollments.
California’s 310 non-classroom based schools served 195,000 students in the last school year, representing 29 percent of the statewide total enrollment in public charter schools.
The three systems filing the new suit:
The Classical Academies — The Classical Academies are Certified California Public Charter Schools, with over 5,500 students in grades TK-12. They serve students from 39 cities across San Diego County with the option of attending class on campus two-four days a week.
Springs Charter Schools — Springs Charter Schools serve more than 8,000 students. Many Springs parents choose to homeschool full-time, while others choose two-five days a week blending classroom instruction with home study. Springs serves students in student centers in the counties of Riverside, San Bernardino, San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles.
The Learning Choice Academy (TLC) — TLC is a public hybrid homeschool. Families can choose between a 100% homeschool program or a hybrid program with three days at school and two days at home.