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ARIZONA: Judge blocks state’s bid to collect refunds from charter schools

judgePHOENIX — State education officials have been blocked by a judge from taking nearly $5.9 million away from charter schools.

The state Department of Education may not demand refunds from charter schools that the state said had been given more state aid than they should have received, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Dean Fink said in an order released Monday.

Fink acknowledged the position of the education agency that schools should not get money to which they were not entitled. And he said that, on some level, it makes sense for the state to be able to get back the excess, no matter how long it takes.

But Fink said it would be unfair to take money from schools years later.

Fink said the refund would likely hurt students who did not receive any benefit from the extra funding.

Fairness aside, Fink also said the move would be illegal. He said the way the money was first distributed followed the formula in statute. And that makes the Department of Education powerless to later reinterpret the law.

The fight stems from 2000 voter-approved Proposition 301, which raised the state sales tax by six-tenths of a cent per dollar, with some of that to give more money to public schools for teacher pay, which would be divided up on a per-pupil basis. That includes charter schools.

Beginning in 2006, the recession caused the amount of revenue flowing into that “classroom site fund” to be less than legislative budget staffers projected. Then, two years ago, lawmakers altered the formula to essentially make up for the difference.

For two years, the Department of Education distributed the money on the number of students currently attending a school. But Stacey Morley, the Education Department’s director of policy development and government affairs, said the money actually should have been divided up based on the number of students who were in each school at the time the shortages occurred.

Schools that are much larger now than they were last decade, when they were shorted, got far more money in reimbursement than they should have received, Morley said. In fact, she said, there are some charter schools getting reimbursement on current enrollment that were not even in existence during the lean years and therefore were not shorted at all.

Fink, however, said the original payments were made in accordance with the law, and the Department of Education cannot now seek refunds.

The regular public schools that were overpaid have not made an issue of it.

Chuck Essigs, lobbyist for the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, said most realize this was a legitimate error on the state’s part. Anyway, he said, the amounts involved — some overpayments and some underpayments — probably are not as consequential to those schools.

Source: Arizona Daily Star – by Howard Fischer

View more articles on Arizona charter schools

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This entry was posted on February 3, 2014 by in Arizona, Charter Schools, States.

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