St. Louis city and Confluence Academies file briefs for charter school parents to have say in lawsuit

ST. LOUIS • The city of St. Louis is taking sides in a dispute that pits the city’s school system against charter schools, arguing that the nontraditional public schools should share millions in revenue from a special sales tax.

In April, St. Louis Public Schools filed a lawsuit asking the court to return more than $50 million that had been given charter schools, which are independently run, tax-funded public schools.

Charter school leaders say they may be forced to close if forced to pay the money. Now, they have the support of the city, which has filed a legal brief in support of the schools.

The dispute centers on money from a 2/3-cent city sales tax passed in 1999 to support public schools. The tax was tied to a court settlement of a longstanding desegregation lawsuit.

St. Louis Public Schools argues that the sales tax — which generates more than $20 million a year — should not be shared with charter schools because they were not expressly mentioned in the original settlement agreement, and did not yet exist.

But in an amicus curiae brief filed Friday, the city argues that the sales tax “sprang directly” from a related 1998 state law that, among other things, first authorized charter schools in the city.

Consequently, the city argues that an accompanying tax was passed with the intent of funding all city public schools, including charter schools.

Charter school parents had petitioned for a say in the legal battle. But in July, a district judge denied their request because they were not named as parties in the original desegregation settlement agreement.

Charter school parents have filed an appeal in federal court.

Confluence Academies, the city’s largest charter school network by number of students, also filed an amicus curiae brief last week in support of charter schools.

It pointed out that, while enrollment at St. Louis Public Schools has decreased, charter school enrollment has increased to constitute at least 30 percent of public school students in the city.

Confluence Academies argued that taking funding away from charter schools would go against the intent of the desegregation agreement, which it says was to end the inadequate education of black students in the city.