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Judge rules against DeKalb County Schools in charter school funding lawsuit

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Judge rules against DeKalb County Schools in charter school funding lawsuit

The Museum School of Avondale Estates. Photo by Dean Hesse.

This story has been updated.

DeKalb County, GA — A Fulton County judge has ruled in favor of seven DeKalb County charter schools suing the DeKalb County School District over funding for the schools.

The Museum School in Avondale Estates is one of seven charter schools that sued the DeKalb County School District in 2020 over allegations that the district improperly withheld funding from the schools. Charter schools operate independently of school districts via agreements, or charters, with those school districts.

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter on Oct. 20 ruled in favor of the plaintiff on several counts of their complaint. The court did find DCSD didn’t breach its contracts with the charter schools by withholding education special purpose local option sales tax (ESPLOST) funds.

“Judge Baxter found, as a matter of law, that the charter schools were entitled to recover their damages on each of these claims, which involved underfunding by the DeKalb County School District,” a press release from the Georgia Charter Schools Association says.

“These claims include (1) not funding the charter schools at or above the minimum funding set forth in their charters; (2) not providing the charter school’s proportionate share of the state austerity funds restored in the state budget; (3) improperly withholding funds at the charter schools’ academic year midterm; (4) not providing the charter schools’ their proportionate share of federal funds, specifically for special needs students and teacher development; and (5) improperly withholding 3% of the charter schools’ funding for an ‘administrative fee’ without providing actual administrative services. The damages for each of these claims vary, but some, including the administrative fee, span six years. In total, the charter schools’ claims exceed $10 million in funding that the DeKalb County School District wrongfully withheld.”

A spokesperson for DeKalb County Schools declined to comment, citing pending litigation. Decaturish asked the school district spokesperson if the district plans to appeal.

The state Charter Schools Association said the verdict is a win for all charter schools.

“This is a win for the more than 4,000 students enrolled in DeKalb County’s public charter schools,” Tony Roberts, President and CEO of the Georgia Charter Schools Association, said in the press release. “The ruling also sends a clear signal that charter schools are public schools, and all children who attend them deserve equitable funding.”

The Museum School recently completed its charter renewal with DeKalb County under extraordinary circumstances. The charter was renewed two days before the previous agreement was set to expire. The Museum School had wanted to become a state charter.

Museum School Executive Director Katherine Kelbaugh praised the verdict.

“We believe that each of these charter schools offers a unique and necessary educational option for students and families in our county,” she said. “This ruling helps us protect our limited resources and ensures charters will receive adequate funding from the district now and in the future.”

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