Massachusetts high court upholds limits on charter schools

The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court [official website] on Tuesday dismissed [opinion, PDF] a complaint challenging that state’s limits on charter schools.

Massachusetts’ charter school law [M.G.L. ch.71 § 89 text] sets a limit on the total number of charter schools operating in the state and a limit on local school district funds that may be diverted to charter schools in a given area. Several students from areas of Boston with underperforming public schools and the maximum number of charter options were denied admission to the charter schools. They subsequently sued state education officials claiming that the funding cap unconstitutionally prevented them from receiving an adequate education.

One argument advanced by the students was that their inadequately performing public schools amounted to a violation of the education clause of the Massachusetts Constitution [text]. The court rejected this argument, finding that the constitutional provision is not violated the moment any school stops performing adequately. If there are measures in place to improve the school system as a whole over a reasonable period of time, the state’s constitutional burden will be met. Furthermore, the students in the case demanded that the remedy to their poorly performing schools be admission to the charter schools. The court again rejected their argument on the grounds that the constitutional right is for an opportunity to receive an adequate education, not the right to attend a charter school.

The students also challenged the charter school cap under the state constitution’s equal protection clause. Under that provision, the court would strike down the law if it substantially burdened a fundamental right. The court’s precedents establish that the right to an adequate education, while protected constitutionally in Massachusetts, does not rise to the level of being fundamental. And even if it was fundamental, the court found, the restrictions imposed by the cap on charter school funding would not have represented a substantial burden.

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