Mecklenburg County commissioners were notified Monday that the N.C. Supreme Court has ended a three-year legal battle over whether charter schools can receive public construction money.
County Attorney Marvin Bethune told commissioners in an email that the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a lower court’s August decision that charter schools cannot receive the funds.
Jeanette Doran, executive director and general counsel of the N.C. Institute for Constitutional Law, said she was “disappointed, but not surprised” by the outcome of the suit, which was filed in September 2009. The institute filed the suit on behalf of nine North Carolina charter schools, including Sugar Creek Charter School in Charlotte, and dozens of charter school parents and students.
Charter schools – independent public schools licensed by the state – receive per-student allocations from the state and local school districts, but they cannot request public dollars for capital construction projects.
The lawsuit named Mecklenburg County, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg County Board of Education and Union County, among others, as defendants.
Doran said the issue is one of fairness, and the plaintiffs believe that since charter schools are considered public schools, they have a constitutional right to the same money as traditional public schools.
“Our position is that public charter schools are public schools, and students should have a uniform opportunity for funding,” she said.
Bethune said the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the case indicates that the matter is no longer one of constitutionality.
And commissioner Bill James agreed, saying that he thinks the legislature will resolve the issue in the future.
“I never really thought this was going to resolve itself by litigation,” he said. “I think the legislature will at some point fix this with legislation.”
The Supreme Court’s decision in the Sugar Creek case is separate from its earlier ruling on whether charters can receive public money for operations. In that case, the court refused in 2009 to hear CMS’s appeal of a lower court ruling that required CMS to pay nearly $6 million in operations dollars to local charter schools.