By Michael P. Norton
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
BOSTON — The Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday affirmed the dismissal of a case challenging the state’s cap on charter schools, delivering another blow to advocates for publicly funded alternatives to traditional public schools.
In its ruling, the court said plaintiff students from Boston “failed to state a claim for relief” under the equal protection clause or the education clause of the state constitution.
“The education clause provides a right for all of the commonwealth’s children to receive an adequate education, not a right to attend charter schools,” the court ruled in Jane Doe No. 1 vs. Secretary of Education and others. The unanimous decision was written by Judge Kimberly Budd.
The plaintiffs, five students attending lower performing public schools who failed to secure charter school seats through a lottery, had argued in part that the cap violates the constitution “because the students were not able to attend the public charter schools of their choosing,” according to the court.
“We conclude that they have failed to state a claim under the education clause because, to state a claim, the plaintiffs would need to plead facts suggesting not only that they have been deprived of an adequate education but also that the defendants have failed to fulfil their constitutionally prescribed duty to educate,” the court ruled.
“Here, the plaintiffs have fulfilled the former but not the latter condition.”
The court further stated that the plaintiffs “have not alleged any facts to support a claim that the Commonwealth’s public education plan does not provide reasonable assurance of improvements for their schools’ performance over a reasonable period of time.”
Critics of charter school expansion have long argued that greater efforts are needed to improve all public schools.
The high court acknowledged that expanding access to charters could potentially help the plaintiff students, but added that “other policy choices might do so as well, such as taking steps to improve lower-performing traditional public schools.”
The court deferred to the Legislature, which has long struggled to achieve consensus on charter expansion and public school improvements.
“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,” the court wrote. “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.”
The complaint was filed against the state education secretary, members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the education commissioner.
Massachusetts voters in 2016 rejected a ballot question thast would have permitted up to 12 new charter schools or expansions per year.
“Charter school funding and caps have been subject to frequent and intense scrutiny by the Legislature and the public at large with advocates advancing arguments on behalf of legitimate student interests on both sides,” the court concluded. “Where a statute does not use a suspect classification or burden a fundamental right, is supported by a rational basis, and does not otherwise violate the Constitution, advocates may not turn to the courts merely because they are unsatisfied with the results of the political process.”