Court upholds state cap on charter schools, in case involving five Boston students

The Supreme Judicial Court ruled yesterday that there is no constitutional guarantee of a seat in a charter school and that the state can continue to limit the total number of charter-school seats.

The ruling came on a lawsuit filed by five Boston students who said the system was failing them because they had been assigned to under-performing BPS schools but were then unable to win a seat in a charter school in the annual charter-school lotteries.

The students said this deprived them of their constitutional right to "an adequate education."

But in its ruling, the state's highest court said that while it's unfortunate their schools sucked, that's not a reason to disturb the state's long-standing limits on charter-school seats - which voters endorsed in 2016. The court reasoned that the state has numerous ways of trying to improve education but that the students focused on just one - charter schools. The proper venue for trying to change the cap is the legislature and the court of public opinion, the justices wrote.

Although the plaintiffs allege that their education is inadequate because two of their schools have been designated by the Commonwealth as level four schools and three have been designated as level three schools, they do not claim that the Commonwealth's framework for ensuring that all schools, including the plaintiffs', meet constitutional educational adequacy fails to satisfy the requirements of the education clause. They instead focus solely on the charter school cap. As there is no constitutional entitlement to attend charter schools, and the plaintiffs' complaint does not suggest that charter schools are the Commonwealth's only plan for ensuring that the education provided in the plaintiffs' schools will be adequate, the Superior Court judge did not err in dismissing the plaintiffs' education clause claim.

Furthermore, even if the plaintiffs had successfully stated a claim under the education clause, the specific relief that they seek would not be available. The education clause provides a right for all the Commonwealth's children to receive an adequate education, not a right to attend charter schools. "[T]he education clause leaves the details of education policymaking to the Governor and the Legislature." Hancock, 443 Mass. at 454 (Marshall, C.J., concurring). Although a violation of the education clause may result in judicial action to remedy the wrong, the clause does not permit courts to order "fundamentally political" remedies or "policy choices that are properly the Legislature's domain." Id. at 460.

Thus, here, although the remedy the plaintiffs seek by way of this action, i.e., expanding access to charter schools, could potentially help address the plaintiffs' educational needs, other policy choices might do so as well, such as taking steps to improve lower-performing traditional public schools. There may be any number of equally effective options that also could address the plaintiffs' concerns; however, each would involve policy considerations that must be left to the Legislature. See id. at 460. Whether to divert an increased amount of school district funds from traditional public schools to charter schools to comply with the education clause mandate is a choice for the Legislature, not for the courts. See id. See also id. at 484 (Greaney, J., dissenting) (acknowledging "the disagreement between competent experts on how best to remediate a nonperforming or poorly-performing school district").

The court also said the cap issue is properly decided in the legislature, because the current system requires money for charter schools to be taken away from more traditional public schools:

The charter school cap reflects the education interests of students in the Commonwealth who do not attend charter schools. As the Superior Court judge noted in this case, funding for charter schools necessarily affects the funding for traditional public schools. The cap is an effort to allocate education funding among all the Commonwealth's students attending these two types of publicly funded schools. Because of the statutory funding mechanism that mandates payment of charter school tuition from resources that would otherwise go to traditional public schools, the expansion of charter schools has detrimental effects on traditional public schools and the students who rely on those schools and their services. See G. L. c. 71, § 89. The process of balancing these competing values in education "calls for . . . legislative judgments as to the desirability, necessity, or lack thereof of" charter schools.

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Good. Now sue the Commonwealth again.

By on

The house failed to adopt an amendment in this year's budget that would fix the education funding formula (Foundation budget) for cities and towns to more accurately reflect the cost of educating students with higher needs. Not only has the state been shortchanging districts for seats lost to charter schools (as was promised), but the formula it uses for state aid is 20 years old.

Sue for every child, not for some children.

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Voting is closed. 50

Well maybe

"Maybe I could choke a few people..."

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Voting is closed. 30

Nope

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My logic is that the our state representatives have failed in their job to properly fund our students and teachers. I only advocate a lawsuit when it's justified and the parties responsible have abdicated their duty.

Amendment 246 was co-sponsored by a majority of representatives, yet was somehow kept out of the budget bill.

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Voting is closed. 30

What????

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"students and teachers" Ooo Please, $95K a year, summers off, 2 built-in weeks off plus other holidays, subsidized health and a f'n pension.

Cry me a rive!

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Voting is closed. 40

Check yourself

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You ought to spend some time in school learning about education funding instead of bashing teachers who work in a district with minimal resources and school budgets that are slashed each year. We teach in buildings that have peeling paint, not enough textbooks, desks and computers to take the state mandated computer based assessments. We teach in rooms with broken heaters, schools without libraries or gymnasiums or full time nurses. We work in a district that annually asks us to do more with less- less money for copy paper and supplies, fewer teachers or social workers. We teach in a district of 56,000 students 47% are English language learners, 66% are economically disadvantaged and 20% are receiving specialized instruction due to special needs. About 7% of our students are homeless. The families with whom I work struggle- working multiple jobs, dealing with food and home insecurity and having a child with special needs. Teachers aren’t rolling in the dough. We are spending our money on supplies for our classrooms, begging for services, making phone calls and meetings after and before school to help families navigate social service agencies and assistance because BPS has cut our social workers, counselors again and our kids need help! We are buying snacks/food for students so they don’t go hungry, buying or washing clothes so they can have some dignity like everyone else. We are buying iPads, computers and textbooks so we have enough. We are tutoring kids after school for free because we care and our students need it. We are spending nights writing reports/asssessments and curriculum. We are grading essays, writing letters of recommendation for students, arranging translators to help families understand the system. We are attending school committee meetings to share our stories of being asked to do much with little. We are attending professional development after school and on weekends to learn everything we can to support our students, often at our own expense- while there is some tuition reimbursement, there is no money for professional conferences that are important and can cost $1000+ when you include registration and travel costs. We spend our summers teaching in ESY programs, attending PD, creating curriculum, collaborating with other teachers, or volunteering at camps for children with special needs. Parents and students reach out to us at night and on weekends in crisis and you know what we do? We help them. On our own time. Because we love our students.
Step foot in a BPS school and see the horrible conditions, talk to a teacher. Then visit schools in the suburbs where schools are funded and teachers are compensated with comparable wages. I taught in the suburbs for 15+ years and never had to beg for supplies and technology. Classrooms were sized well, stocked with supplies and technology. There was no peeling paint or windows without screens or that don’t open. I don’t know one teacher living high on the hog. Your comments are so stereotypical and short sighted.

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Voting is closed. 22

Maybe

But if the City adequately funds some schools, but not others, it's the city that should be sued. If reallocating funds to deliver equal resources to all the schools results in inadequate education city-wide, then yes, sue the State.

Charter schools only make the situation worse for underfunded public schools, of course. The parents' desire to get their kids into better schools is understandable, but by choosing charters as their solution, they're throwing the kids left behind under the bus. More charters means even less resources for those public schools.

Privatization is a bad approach to public education, and certainly not what our Founding Fathers wanted. Universal public education was first implemented right here, and we should be the last to abandon the idea.

Full disclosure: I am not a teacher, or a union member, nor do I have any kids in BPS, or have any relatives who are any of those things. What I am is someone who wants to live in a society composed of educated, rather than ignorant people. It's not a perfect system, but universal public education serves that goal. Privatization doesn't.

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Voting is closed. 39

oops,

Universal public education was first implemented right here

Read that wrong. Carry on.

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Voting is closed. 35

It's really both

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The State needs to reformulate the Foundation Budget aid for today's students -- it's a 25 year old formula, I believe.

The City is increasing its budget by 4+% this year, but BPS isn't keeping up with inflation at only 1.5%. They're both to blame and both should be held responsible for making it right.

The richest city in the third richest state should fund its schools accordingly.

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Voting is closed. 26

Just wondering...

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Considering the city spends $20k per student per year plus another $5-6k per student per year when you add in nonoperating expenses plus free real estate, how much SHOULD the city be spending?

And it doesn't matter. If the state increases funding for schools, the city just throws it in the general fund mix, backs out 35% +/- for education and gives the rest to othervparts of the budget.

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Voting is closed. 30

It’s not just about Boston

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In fact, the Foundation Budget update would have a much larger impact on schools in Brockton, Worcester, Lawrence, etc.

Cities with large populations of immigrants and higher levels of poverty need to spend more because those kids need more support.

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Voting is closed. 35

Honest answer:

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Enough for an adequate number of special educators, nurses, inclusion specialists, and mental health professionals in schools.

Enough for 100 year old buildings to be dramatically renovated or rebuilt.

Enough for students to have art and music.

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Voting is closed. 26

And then the question is...

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How is $20k per kid (plus external funds, plus capital expenditures, plus pensions, plus retirement benefits, plus free real estate, plus state funded school buildings) not enough?

Oh - and by the way - that 1.5% increase is only over this one year. Go back 15-20 years and BPS is expanding the budget by twice the rate of inflation for a system that is 1% smaller every year over that time frame. Again - it begs the question - how is that not "enough" in a system that has one of the lowest teacher to student ratios (about 12 I think?) and total staff to student ratios (about 6 I believe) in the state?

We all want a good system. As I've stated many, many times in this forum - money is not the problem.

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Voting is closed. 23

Good

I think most of the Boston charters provide a good alternative to BPS but it only works with defined limits and very, very slow expansion to ensure BPS isn't harmed unduly by rapid change.

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Voting is closed. 32

Sounds right

Everybody knew this case was ridiculous anyway. Yes students should have a right to a great education, especially in MA, but like the judges said, charter schools don't necessarily provide that education, nor are they the only option. It's hard to even argue that you can't get a good education at level 3 and 4 schools either. Their rankings are mostly based on test scores which don't really tell us much about a school, they more tell us about what a student knows and can do within a certain margin of error. There are students scoring well at those schools, are they getting a bad education?

Also, their level 3 and 4 rankings are in comparison to the rest of the state, which has the highest scores in the country, so even the scores at level 3 and 4 schools are better than most other public schools in the USA. I realize that doesn't address the state constitution, but it's worth thinking about. There will always be level 3 and 4 schools in MA, just like there will always be people whose income is in the top 10% of MA and people whose income is in the bottom 10% in MA. I could go on and on...

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Voting is closed. 32

Happy with this decision

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I'll fully admit my bias leads me to be reactively distrustful of charters, as I work for BPS: but this really was a ridiculous case, arguing that charters categorically would meet the constitutional education clause.

Even if the annual level rankings were an accurate marker of what type of education students receive at a particular school, Level 3 schools become Level 1 schools and vice versa; it can and does change from year to year.

It would be great if there was a strict and accepted definition of what constitutes an adequate education, but anyone with sense would hopefully tell you that there are few numerical markers that would align with it given the broad array of students and their needs. It would also be great if charters were actually doing what they were originally designed to do: explore and test new models of teaching to see what works and how they can be disseminated to the wider education community; having lawyers for charters arguing that they and they only provide an adequate education shows that that original goal is not within their sites at all.

Anyway, it would be great if education was easy, but it's not.

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Voting is closed. 33

It would be great if hedge

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It would be great if hedge funds would be prohibited from public school funds. It is not what the system was designed for, a free and appropiate education. Charters are lead in Union smashing. Too bad the parents of these students have bought into the branding of " charter schools".

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Sounds right

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You don't have to be an originalist to see that there is no constitutional right to attend a charter school.

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