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Charter schools win funding claim against Department of Education

JA Maricopa County Superior Court judge ruled in favor of a group of charter schools on Feb. 3, saying the state cannot reduce voter approved-funds earmarked for teacher pay raises and the classroom to offset overpayments in previous years.

The ruling by Judge Dean Fink means that charter schools have stopped the Arizona Department of Education from withholding almost $6 million it claims belongs to the state.

The department had asserted it was just trying to correct overpayments made in fiscal years 2011 and 2012 from the voter-approved Proposition 301’s Classroom Site Fund.

Megan Gilbertson, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Charter Schools Association, said the state Department of Education began reducing payments to charter schools in August, so the next step will be to figure out how much has been withheld. The department was going to reduce payments for the next five years, which would have come to almost $6 million.

The department can still appeal. Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the Attorney General’s Office, said no decision has been made yet.

“Of course we are disappointed with the ruling, and working with the Department of Education to evaluate options and determine next steps,” Grisham said.

The charter schools and Arizona Charter Schools Association alleged the department withheld funds from schools to offset overpayments in fiscal years 2011 and 2012.

The over payments occurred in an effort to make up for years when the Classroom Site Fund was underfunded.

The Joint Legislative Budget Committee calculates how much to put into the fund every year based on student enrollment, and the department is in charge of disbursing the money.

The charter schools and Education Department agree that the calculations for 2011 and 2012 were based on enrollment for those years, but the department claims it should have doled out money based on enrollment during the years of the shortfall.

The state took the position that by using 2011 and 2012 enrollment numbers, schools that had not been open during the shortfall years and schools that had increased student enrollment got higher payments than they would have otherwise.

“All monies from the fund must be distributed according to the statutory formula for the current year in which those monies are distributed,” Fink wrote.

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