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Charter suit could be a milestone 

The five families from Rochester and Buffalo who are suing the state over funding for charter schools will have their day in court. State Supreme Court Justice Donna Siwek last month refused to dismiss the case.

"This means the court believes that this case has merit," says Harold Hinds, legal director for Northeast Charter Schools Network. "It could be a very big case, and frankly we're hoping that it is."

The families say that the state's funding formula is unconstitutional. If they win, the ramifications for education funding in New York could be huge. State officials could be required to treat New York's charter schools like traditional public schools by providing parity in funding.

Hinds says that he doesn't know if the state will appeal Siwek's decision.

In the suit filed last year, Brown v. New York, the parents of the charter school students say that inequitable funding prevents charter students from getting the sound and basic education that the state is obligated by law to provide.

Charter schools in Rochester and Buffalo receive about 60 cents for every $1 allocated for students in traditional public schools, the suit says. It amounts to a per-pupil disparity of nearly $10,000, the suit says.

Charter schools are public schools, Hinds says, so "there's no reason why they should be treated differently from their counterparts in traditional districts when it comes to funding and resources."

Maria Dalmau, a Rochester parent and plaintiff in the case, enrolled her daughter in Eugenio Maria de Hostos Charter School as a kindergartener. Her daughter is in third grade now and doing well in the dual-language, K-8 school, Dalmau says.

"We are not any different than the other district families," she says. "As a taxpayer, as a Rochester citizen, we're part of the public school system."

Dalmau says that her main reason for pursuing litigation is building space. Eugenio Maria de Hostos is split between two buildings that are about a mile apart. Teachers and administrators have to run back and forth between the buildings, she says.

Maria de Hostos officials want to purchase a building that houses all of the students together, Dalmau says, and has enough space for the school to grow.

Funding for building space is a common concern for charter schools, Hinds says.

"Facilities are a major hurdle for us," he says.

The case does run counter, however, to earlier claims by some charter advocates that the schools get results on less money.

"We are doing great things with less money and one hand tied behind our back," Hinds says. "But that doesn't mean it's O.K. Imagine what these schools would do with more funding."

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