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D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools v. District of Columbia

United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit

July 19, 2019

D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools, et al., Appellants
v.
District of Columbia, et al., Appellees

          Argued November 5, 2018

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (No. 1:14-cv-01293)

          Kelly P. Dunbar argued the cause for appellants. With him on the brief were Carl J. Nichols and Thomas C. Kost.

          Jason Lederstein, Assistant Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, argued the cause for appellees. With him on the briefs were Karl A. Racine, Attorney General, Loren L. AliKhan, Solicitor General, and Caroline S. Van Zile, Deputy Solicitor General.

          John R. Hoellen and Lauren R.S. Mendonsa were on the brief for amicus curiae Council of the District of Columbia in support of appellees.

          Roger E. Warin, Osvaldo Vazquez, Marcus Gadson, and Jonathan Smith were on the brief for amici curiae Community Members and Organizations in support of defendants-appellees.

          Before: Henderson, Srinivasan and Millett, Circuit Judges.

          OPINION

          Srinivasan, Circuit Judge.

         In 1996, Congress enacted the School Reform Act, which established parallel systems of traditional public schools and charter schools in the District of Columbia. The Act requires the District to fund the operating expenses of public and charter schools on a uniform, per-student basis. In this case, the D.C. Association of Chartered Public Schools contends that the District's school funding practices inadequately fund charter schools. The district court rejected the Association's claims. We conclude, though, that the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear this case.

         I.

         The Constitution's District Clause grants Congress the power "[t]o exercise exclusive Legislation in all Cases whatsoever, over [the] District [of Columbia]." U.S. Const. art. I, § 8, cl. 17. Pursuant to that Clause, Congress can delegate "legislative power" to the District. District of Columbia v. John R. Thompson Co., 346 U.S. 100, 109 (1953). Congress did so in the District of Columbia Self-Government and Governmental Reorganization Act, Pub. L. No. 93-198, 87 Stat. 774 (1973) (codified as amended at D.C. Code § 1-201.01 et seq.)-also known as the Home Rule Act, or HRA-which sought to "relieve Congress of the burden of legislating upon essentially local District matters," id. § 102(a).

         Congress, however, limited the District's power to legislate in certain respects. Of most relevance for our purposes, Congress barred the District from amending or repealing an Act of Congress that "is not restricted in its application exclusively in or to the District." Id. § 602(a)(3).

         In 1996, Congress enacted the School Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321-107 (1996), which authorized the creation of charter schools in the District. The Act addresses the annual operating budgets for both traditional public schools and charter schools. It provides that the District "shall establish . . . a formula to determine the amount of . . . the annual payment to the Board of Education for the operating expenses of the District of Columbia public schools . . . [and] the annual payment to each public charter school for [its] operating expenses." Id. § 2401(b)(1). The "amount of the annual payment" for each school "shall be calculated by multiplying a uniform dollar amount . . . [by] the number of students" enrolled at the school. Id. § 2401(b)(2).

         The District's uniform per-student funding level for both traditional public and charter schools is currently $10, 658. See D.C. Code § 38-2903. But the District allocates certain additional funding to traditional public schools above the per-pupil amount (including for maintenance of facilities and for teacher pensions). The District also applies the per-pupil formula to traditional public schools and charter schools in a slightly different way: the District makes one annual payment to traditional public schools based on the prior year's enrollment, see D.C. Code ยง 38-2906(a), whereas for charter schools, the ...


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