Judge drops NC group from federal charter school lawsuit

NC charters experienced 19% growth during the pandemic. (Credit: National Alliance for Charter Schools.)

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  • A Michigan judge has dropped the North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools from a lawsuit challenging rules for federal charter funding.
  • US District Judge Paul Maloney ruled that the NC coalition lacked standing to participate in the case. Maloney's Dec. 6 order also applied to charter school groups in Michigan and Delaware.
  • Critics argued that the US Department of Education's rules interfered with the aim of funding “innovative, high-quality charter school programs nationwide.”

A federal judge in Michigan has dropped the North Carolina Coalition for Charter Schools from a lawsuit challenging rule changes for charters set in Washington, DC.

US District Judge Paul Maloney issued a Dec. 6 order granting the US Department of Education’s motion to dismiss the NC coalition from the case. The order also affected charter school support groups in Michigan and Delaware.

“Plaintiffs do not allege which members suffered an injury or that all members of [the three charter school groups] suffered or will suffer an injury,” Maloney wrote. “Plaintiffs failed to identify which of their members of these organizations suffered an injury or will suffer an injury in the future. Therefore, these organizations lack standing.”

Without legal standing, none of the three groups can pursue legal action. Charter school groups with ties to Ohio and West Virginia can continue to pursue the case. Both of those groups are charter school “authorizers.” The case will continue in a venue other than Maloney’s Michigan courtroom.

Maloney’s order marks the first development in the case in nearly a year.

Plaintiffs filed a motion in December 2022 asking Maloney to reject the government’s attempt to have the lawsuit dismissed.

In November 2022, 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 signed on to the suit, which asked a federal court to block implementation of new rules imposed by the US 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 argued they would 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.

In November 2022, 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 argued that the coalition had 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 said. “They have a profound legal interest in challenging the rule and protecting the future educational opportunities of their students.”

The coalition also argued that the Department of Education tried 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 addrd.

“Sadly, the lawsuit is one of the few tools left to end the federal government’s war against charter schools,” said Robert Luebke, director of the Center for Effective Education at the John Locke Foundation, in December 2022. “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 landed during a time when charter schools have experienced notable growth. A 2022 report ranked 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 2019-20 school year to 2021-22. That brought total enrollments from 118,597 students to 132,909 students, a 12% gain.

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