Charter schools coalition seeks to keep federal lawsuit alive

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  • In July, the U.S. Department of Education imposed new rules that school choice advocates say will have a negative impact on public charter schools.
  • The move came even as charters have experienced significant growth during the pandemic.

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit that seeks to protect charter schools across the United States filed a motion Dec. 14 asking a federal judge to reject the government’s attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed.

In November, a coalition of charter-school advocacy organizations from five states filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to block new restrictions on charter schools imposed by the Biden administration, claiming the new rules are “without legal grounding” and “a sneak attack” on charter schools.

The North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools is one of the organizations to sign on to the lawsuit, which asks a federal court to block implementation of new rules imposed by the U.S. Department of Education on July 1.

Those rules apply to the federal Charter Schools Program, which provides federal funding to replicate new charter schools in states across the nation. Although the new regulations were not as severe as those initially considered by the Democrat-controlled Congress, charter advocates say they will have a negative impact.

Among others, the new rules require charters to demonstrate over-enrollment in existing schools before receiving grant funds, demonstrate collaboration with local school districts, and mirror racial balance compared to their local public school district.

On Nov. 16, the federal government filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. In a brief supporting that motion, the federal government argued that “the plaintiffs do not meet the jurisdictional requirement of standing, because they have not identified any concrete application of the July 2022 rules that threatens any imminent harm to their interests. The case should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.”

But in a filing countering that motion, the coalition of charter schools organizations makes the argument that the coalition does have proper standing in the lawsuit.

“Plaintiffs are the representatives of scores of public charter schools that will be burdened by onerous new application requirements, and significantly and unlawfully disadvantaged in future competitions for grants,” the filing says. “They have a profound legal interest in challenging the rule and protecting the future educational opportunities of their students.”

The coalition also argues that the Department of Education is trying to “undermine” the aim of funding “innovative, high-quality charter school programs nationwide.”

“In a final rule that is the subject of this lawsuit, the Department has set out new criteria for grant awards that are designed to decrease charter school programs, and ensure that failing public schools don’t have to compete with innovative alternatives,” the filing reads.

“Sadly, the lawsuit is one of the few tools left to end the federal government’s war against charter schools,” said Dr. Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation. “The Biden Administration’s restrictions are excessively onerous and show everyone the administration doesn’t consider charter schools to be on a par with public schools. That’s what happens when you have a president who is taking orders from the teachers unions.”

The new rules from the federal government have landed during a time when charter schools have experienced notable growth. A recent report ranks North Carolina fifth in the nation for number of new charter school enrollments during the pandemic — enrollments jumped by 14,312 new students from the 2019-2020 school year to the 2021-2022 school year. That brought total enrollments from 118,597 students to 132,909 students, a 12% gain.

During that same period of time, enrollments in traditional public schools dipped by 48,283 students, a decrease the report deemed ninth largest in the nation.

There is no word on when Judge Paul Maloney will respond to the federal government’s request.