Boston, MA – Students of color, students with disabilities, and English language learners, together with the New England Area Conference of the NAACP, moved today to intervene in the pending litigation over the cap on charter schools, arguing that the cap is necessary to preserve educational opportunities for students in traditional public schools. The would-be intervenors cite evidence that charter schools divert millions of dollars from traditional public schools each year, yet serve proportionately far fewer students with disabilities and English language learners and impose harsher discipline on students of color.
“It is critical that the voices of students in traditional public schools be heard in this lawsuit,” said Matthew Cregor, Education Project Director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice and one of the lead attorneys for the student intervenors. “Traditional public school students – particularly those who are underserved by charter schools – suffer immense harm as more and more funds are diverted to charter schools.” He noted that earlier this year, Boston Public Schools announced that it expects to cut $50 million from its 2016-17 school year budget, citing shifts in enrollment as one of the key reasons for the shortfall.
“This diversion of funds is doubly harmful to the students of color, students with disabilities, and English language learners we represent,” stated Scott P. Lewis, partner at Anderson & Krieger LLP, which is representing the proposed intervenors pro bono. “These are the students who are disproportionately excluded from charter schools. Moreover, when funds are diverted from traditional public schools to charter schools, these same students experience devastating cuts to services they desperately need.” He cited the case of B.H., one of the would-be intervenors, an 8th grader with significant developmental disabilities, who attends Boston Public Schools but, because of inadequate funding, is being denied needed services.
“The NAACP is firmly committed to high quality, free, public schools for all,” said Juan Cofield, President of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP. “All available dollars for education should be used to improve public schools and close the education gap. Public policy which siphons funds from traditional public schools and expands a dual education system is not a constructive solution, and it will lead to the erosion of traditional public schools.” He noted that many charter schools are not welcoming environments for students of color, citing evidence of charter schools that suspend Black students at far higher rates than traditional public schools.
“Charter schools do not serve all students equally, and do a particularly poor job of enrolling and educating English language learners,” stated Roger Rice of Multicultural Education, Training, and Advocacy, another of the students’ counsel. “In 2014, charter schools enrolled English language learners (ELLs) at approximately half the rate of traditional public schools, and the number of ELLs with the lowest levels of English language proficiency is a small fraction of the few ELLs enrolled by charter schools. Charter schools drain funds from traditional public schools, but then fail to educate all our youth on an equal basis.”
Samuel Ding, a senior at Boston Latin School (slated to lose $700,000 from its budget next year) and one of the proposed intervenors, stated that, “Lifting the charter cap harms public education overall. Everyone should have access to strong public schools no matter who they are or where they come from.”
Savina Tapia, a senior at Boston Latin Academy who also seeks to intervene in the case, asked “Why would we direct away money from our public schools when, by and large, charters aren’t inclusive of all types of students?”
“Students with disabilities are also disproportionately excluded from charter schools,” stated Kathleen Boundy, Co-Director of the Center for Law and Education and another counsel for the proposed intervenors. “In the 2013-14 school year, Boston’s charters enrolled students with disabilities at only about three-quarters of the rate at which Boston’s traditional public schools enroll students with disabilities.” She noted that for students with the most severe needs, the discrepancies are even more stark: traditional public schools enrolled twice as many students with autism, those who are developmentally delayed, and students with intellectual disabilities as charters.
The charter cap suit was filed on September 15, 2015, on behalf of five students who allege that they are on waitlists for charter schools. The named defendants in the case include several high-profile advocates for lifting the charter cap, a point that the would-be intervenors argue necessitates their participation in the lawsuit.
“The plaintiffs and a number of the defendants are aligned in this lawsuit,” stated Alan J. Rom, another counsel for proposed intervenors. “Unlike the current defendants, the students we represent have a vested interest in seeing this lawsuit defeated. If the cap is lifted, their schools would face devastating cuts. That perspective should be heard in this litigation.”
The Attorney General has filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs’ lawsuit. A hearing date is not yet scheduled for that motion, or for the motion to intervene.