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St. Louis Parents Dispute Whether Charter Schools Should Get Desegregation Funds

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A legal dispute in St. Louis over school funding is pitting representatives of parents in a desegregation case against charter school parents who worry they could lose too much money to stay afloat.

A federal lawsuit aims to recover more than $42 million in local sales taxes that have gone to charter schools since 2006. St. Louis Public Schools, the NAACP and others involved in the desegregation case claim a two-thirds of a cent, voter-approved sales tax is intended to fund court-ordered desegregation programs, according to an April 19 story by Elisa Crouch in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The lawsuit was filed April 11 against the Missouri Board of Education

Now, charter school parents are fighting back, saying they rely on their portion of the tax money and that the charters could go bankrupt without it, a Post-Dispatch story said. Parents and charter school advocates have started a social-media campaign called #DropTheSuit, as well as hold meetings and informally talk with fellow parents about the issue, according to a follow-up story April 26 in the Post-DispatchAn online petition was started.

One parent who is protesting the case explained to Education Week how she sees the cause from different angles. 

Rachel D'Souza-Siebert's 5-year-old son plans to start kindergarten next year at a charter school, City Garden Montessori School. D'Souza-Siebert previously worked as a founding director of development at dual-language charter schools. And she now works as a fundraising consultant with clients that include charters.

D'Souza-Siebert said she and her husband decided to live in an urban environment in the city partly because they knew they had choices for schools. They selected City Garden because of its achievement, but also because of its diverse student body. D'Souza-Siebert is Indian-American and her husband is white, she said. (Education Week wrote about City Garden's diversity efforts, as well as other charter schools, in a March story.)

She found out about the lawsuit from a Facebook post. "There's this sort of immediate firestorm of comments that were literally blowing up my Facebook feed," D'Souza-Siebert said. Since then, D'Souza-Siebert said she has been "obsessed" with the #DropTheSuit hashtag and has attended formal and informal meetings about the issue.

"I think that this lawsuit really has the ability to threaten that choice for families living in the St. Louis area," D'Souza-Siebert said.

She knows some parents are torn about the issue because they have children in both traditional public and charter schools, D'Souza-Siebert said.

On the other side, 17 years ago, a group of black parents came to an agreement with the district to secure funding for desegregation programs, which they now say are threatened. The attorneys for the plaintiffs said they have tried to work out the funding outside of the courts, but had "no viable choice" but to file a lawsuit.

"This is not, and should not be, a confrontation between the families of St. Louis Public Schools' students and the families of students attending charter schools within the City of St. Louis," said William A. Douthit and Veronica Johnson, attorneys for the plaintiffs, in a statement to Education Week.

Adolphus Pruitt, president of the St. Louis NAACP, a plaintiff, told the Post-Dispatch that the lawsuit isn't an attack on charter schools.

"Poor kids in the public schools and poor kids in the charter schools shouldn't have to fight one another for money. If anything, we should be fighting together to get the state to step up to the plate," Pruitt told the Post-Dispatch.

D'Souza-Siebert agreed, saying she hopes both sides will come together to fight for better funding.

"It would truly be a shame if the argument of who gets what money destroys the opportunity for families and children to have that choice," D'Souza said.

Contact Sarah Tully at [email protected].

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