Mass. Lawsuit to Turn Charter School Debate into a Civil Rights Issue

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Charter school supporters and opponents should be watching carefully the lawsuit filed in Massachusetts that attempts to frame charter schools as a civil rights issue. Three high-powered attorneys who are usually competitors are joining forces in a lawsuit that seeks the removal of the cap on charter schools in that state arguing it’s unconstitutional. Their arguments are sound, logical and should carry the day, The Shad thinks. As could be easily be predicted, the teachers unions are up in arms.

The Massachusetts Constitution demands that every student be provided a quality education. The lawsuit contends that the cap on charter schools denies students in urban and low-income areas that right. Previous attempts to lift the cap have been thwarted by the state legislature.

Teachers unions are apoplectic about the idea of lifting the cap. It doesn’t take much insight to conclude lifting the cap threatens the status quo and the unions’ entitlement. The Shad is a union supporter but when it comes to education, the students top the list of priorities not the unions. One wonders where on the priority list students come for them. My guess is that every day, hard-working, dedicated teachers have the students’ best interest at heart, not so much for union heads and their “amen” stooges in the legislature and the blogosphere.

Lawmakers know where their bread is buttered. Departing from the will of the teachers unions means endorsements and contributions dry up, putting their taxpayer-funded jobs at risk.

Who benefits from more charter schools? Low-income families who are in failing traditional public schools and who can’t afford private or parochial schools. Connecticut has the largest achievement gap between white students and their minority peers.

“This is, frankly, an issue of civil rights, and this is an issue which the legislature, for one reason or another, has failed to act on,” said Michael Keating told the Boston Globe. He is a highly respected Boston attorney and a past president of the Boston Bar Association. “It is not inappropriate, in those circumstances, to seek judicial relief,” he said.

Currently there are 18,000 students on the waiting list for charter schools in Boston alone and 40,000 statewide. “We don’t think they should be denied that opportunity, and we don’t think the Constitution allows them to be denied that opportunity,” William Lee, another attorney on the case, told the Globe. “We’d like to see the cap removed so that supply meets demand.”

It remains to be seen whether or for how long teachers unions have the juice to put their own interests before those of the students. Thus far, they have. Framing the debate—and it’s sure to escalate—as a civil rights issue may very well force the students to the top of everyone’s priority list.