Charter battle heads to court

The debate over charter schools, which has been waged largely in the political arena, looks like it’s heading to court.

The Globe reported on Sunday that three top Boston lawyers plan to file suit contending that the state’s constitutional obligation to provide all children an adequate education means the cap should be lifted on charter schools, which are public but independently run. The suit will argue that charters often provide better outcomes for poor children who are otherwise consigned to attending low-performing district schools.

“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,” Michael Keating, a past president of the Boston Bar Association and one of the three lawyers filing the the suit, told the Globe. “It is not inappropriate, in those circumstances, to seek judicial relief.”

It is believed to be the first time a constitutional challenge has been filed against charter school caps in any state, and it is quickly roiling the waters in the Massachusetts education world.

Teachers union leaders came out swinging in response to news of the planned lawsuit. Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, told the Globe: “Any claim that the charter school cap is the basis of Massachusetts children being denied their civil rights is appalling and deceptive.”

Charter school opponents have said the schools harm district systems because funding follows students who enroll in charter schools.

If there is any civil rights violation taking place in public schooling in Massachusetts, it is the inadequate funding of district schools, Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, told the paper.

There is plenty of precedent for education battles being waged in court, rather than in the political arena. Indeed, Stutman’s comments about funding are something of an echo of the battle leading up to passage of the state’s 1993 Education Reform Act, which brought a dramatic increase in school funding for poorer communities. The law, which also introduced the standards and accountability system that introduced MCAS, was an attempt by elected officials to stay a step ahead of court action, which was certain to mandate greater state spending on schools and greater equity in allocating those resources if lawmakers did not.

Adding a good bit of intrigue to the pending suit is the fact that two of the parties the lawyers plan to name as defendants, Gov. Charlie Baker and his education secretary, James Peyser, are both huge charter school supporters, who would like nothing more than to see the cap lifted.

One person who appears to have seen a move like this coming is national education policy analyst Andy Smarick.  In December, he engaged in a discussion [behind Education Week’s paywall] with Holy Cross professor Jack Schneider on the topic of when courts should intervene in school issues. Smarick even envisioned a scenario in which a case is brought to increase the charter cap in Massachusetts based on studies showing the good results they deliver to low-income students.

–MICHAEL JONAS

BEACON HILL

An Elder Affairs worker who got fired after criticizing his agency in the press is now suing the state, CommonWealth reports.

Lottery aid to local communities doesn’t reflect the amount of money gambled on the Lottery in the local communities, the Lowell Sun reports.

Jay Ash, the secretary of housing and economic affairs, squares off with Don Packer of the Massachusetts Production Coalition over the state’s film tax credit on NECN’sBroadside.

OLYMPICS

Should common courtesy have dictated that Boston 2024 officials give current Gov. Charlie Baker a heads-up that immediate-past governor Deval Patrick had signed on as a paid part of the Olympics effort?

House Minority Leader Brad Jones tells Keller@Large the MBTA’s problems stem from a “lack of focus on maintenance” and says he is skeptical about an Olympic bid because of the state’s transportation woes.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The Methuen Commission on Disabilities accuses Mayor Stephen Zanni of violating the law by tapping a fund without the commission’s approval, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Brockton city councilors are pressuring the police department to hire a full-time code enforcement officer for the position that has been vacant since last November.

Before you celebrate the Big Thaw that’s on its way this week, pause to marvel at the four-room igloo a Roslindale family constructed in honor of the abundance of snow.

RELIGION

Parishioners who took over a closed church in Scituate have vowed to continue their decade-old takeover of the building despite exhausting all their appeals to the Vatican and an order from the Boston Archdiocese to vacate by today.

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Thousands made their way across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma yesterday, commemorating the 50th anniversary of “Bloody Sunday,” considered a turning point in the battle for equal voting rights.

A Telegram & Gazette editorial assails Sen. Elizabeth Warren for tracking “down obscure points of economics and law and transforming them into demons that simply must be slain for the good of all Americans.”

One guy who will never get in hot water over private email servers or things like that: South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham says he has never sent a single email. Ever.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The makers of the so-called “Snowden phone” have sold more than 1 million of the secure cellphones that are immune from government snooping. Most people use it as their second phone, not their primary.

Apple is expected to unveil the features in its long-awaited smart watch Monday.

Has EMC become fusty and fixed in its ways?

The owner of a power-generating plant in North Weymouth avoided a strike by coming to a last-minute agreement with workers.

The Postal Commission rejected a rate hike proposal that would have dramatically increased mailing costs for nonprofits.

An international airline safety group said there were fewer jetliner crashes but more deathsfrom airplane accidents last year.

EDUCATION

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh talks to CommonWealth’s Michael Jonas about the search process and selection of Tommy Chang to be the city’s next superintendent of schools. The Globe hears from Chang on his priorities for the district, which include expanded early education and more autonomy for individual schools.

Salem State University is purchasing Montserrat College of Art, a transaction that may end up costing taxpayers, the Salem News reports.

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini is seeking to aggregate residents into a buying cooperative for electricity, the Eagle-Tribune reports.

Apparently, Florida state government has banned the use of the term “climate change.”

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is investigating a Pittsfield plant that overcharged ISO-New England.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

Aaron Hernandez flashes his smile and his swagger at his trial on murder, the Associated Press reports.

The brother of Gregory Smart says he would support parole for William Flynn, whose case will be heard this week. Smart’s brother was killed by Flynn 25 years ago in a sordid plot in which New Hampshire high school teacher Pamela Smart convinced her lover, the then-16-year-old Flynn, to murder her husband.

MEDIA

The Toronto Star is taking down its paywall.