Charter school chess match

With yesterday’s filing of a class-action lawsuit challenging state limits on charter schools, the debate over the publicly-funded, but independently operated, schools becomes a complicated chess match that will now play out on multiple levels.

The suit, brought by three prominent Boston attorneys, was six months in the making. The trio of lawyers announced in March that they intended to challenge the state charter school cap on constitutional grounds. The Massachusetts constitution says the Commonwealth must “cherish” education, a provision the lawyers say is not honored by blocking access to charter schools.

That constitutional language was a key element of the pivotal 1993 McDuffy case on school funding that was decided by the Supreme Judicial Court.

The new lawsuit was filed on behalf of five unnamed plaintiffs, referred to as “John and Jane Doe” to protect their privacy. The lawyers say they are Boston students, aged 6 to 13, who were not selected in lotteries held by oversubscribed charter schools to award seats in their schools.

The prospects for the suit’s success are unclear. They rest at least in part on the premise that charter schools offer a better educational opportunity to children, an argument vigorously contested by charter opponents. The attorneys have previously said they will cite research showing that Boston’s charter sector produces significant learning gains for children attending its schools.

The lawsuit follows a failed effort last year to get the Legislature to raise the cap on charter schools. The legislative inaction also prompted a group of charter school advocates to file paperwork to put a question on the 2016 statewide ballot that would allow for more charter schools. Proponents must now gather nearly 65,000 signatures by early December for the effort to move forward.

The ballot campaign and the lawsuit represent end-runs around the established system for sorting out an issue like charter school policy through the legislative process. But such efforts are often aimed as much at getting those legislative wheels turning as they are about bypassing the process.

In the McDuffy case from the early 1990s, which challenged the state’s system for funding schools, the Supreme Judicial Court sided with the plaintiffs. But rather than imposing a judicial fix, the court allowed the legislative process to play out on Beacon Hill, where, within days of the ruling, the Legislature enacted the landmark 1993 Education Reform Act.

The 1993 law not only brought millions of dollars in new state funding to poorer school districts, it also authorized the establishment of charter schools as part of a broad effort to bring quality education to all students in the state.

Gov. Charlie Baker says he would support a ballot question raising the charter cap, if it comes to that. But he also intends to file legislation later this year to allow more charter schools. Meanwhile, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a charter supporter who has expressed disappointment in the Legislature’s failure to move a bill last year, says he intends to play a role in trying to getting legislation through this session.

At a joint appearance this morning at a forum sponsored by Politico, Baker and Walsh both said they’d prefer to see legislative action on the issue rather than a court ruling or ballot campaign decide the matter.

A “legislative fix” is “always the preferred option,” said Baker.

“That’s the way we get to a good resolution,” said Walsh.

We’ll see whether the Legislature agrees.




Uber and the taxi industry find no common ground at a legislative hearing on regulations governing ride-sharing companies. (CommonWealth)

A Baker administration proposal to tighten eligibility for emergency housing as part of its effort to seek permanent housing solutions for homeless families is drawing criticism. (Boston Globe)

Lawmakers once again are considering legislation that would allow for an increase in the number of Gateway Cities. (Salem News)

Attorney General Maura Healey and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft launch an anti-violence initiative in more than 100 state high schools. Read what Malcolm Astley and Mary Dunne, the parents of a teenager slain by her ex-boyfriend, have to say. (CommonWealth)

Gov. Baker nominates The Boston Foundation’s Travis McCready to head the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.


Residents of the Squantum neighborhood in Quincy killed a plan to turn a shuttered Catholic church into condominiums. (Patriot Ledger)

Barnstable officials plan to consider ways to confront homelessness. (Cape Cod Times)

Pittsfield moves toward a new municipal government affirmative action ordinance. (Berkshire Eagle) CommonWealth took an in-depth look at the diversity issues facing the Berkshires city last year.


US Rep. Seth Moulton says “Hillary Clinton is the best candidate in the race right now,” but reiterates his admiration and respect for Vice President Joe Biden while stopping short of saying whether he’d back him if he jumped into the race. (Greater Boston)

Jeremy Corbyn, the new head of Britain’s Labour Party, will try to move the party back to its socialist roots after its stunning defeat at the polls earlier this year. (Christian Science Monitor)


Something has changed for Donald Trump since his bomb-tossing entry into the presidential race: He’s become a better and more polished candidate. Meanwhile, the conservative Club For Growth is launching a $1 million ad campaign aimed at weakening Trump with Iowa voters. (New York Times)

The Herald‘s Chris Cassidy writes that Trump will be big target at tonight’s GOP debate, with Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, and Chris Christie all likely to go hard at him. Joe Battenfeld says Bush needs to “man up” against Trump’s bullying ways. (Boston Herald)

Polls show the GOP presidential race tightening. A WBUR poll has Ben Carson gaining on Trump in New Hampshire with Fiorina moving into third place. A New York Times/CBS News national poll contains similar results. (New York Times)


Frederick Eppinger Jr., the CEO of Hanover Insurance Group and a major power broker in Worcester, announces he is stepping down next year. (Telegram & Gazette)

A report by the online charity tracker Guidestar finds women who head nonprofits earn less than men in similar positions. (Chronicle of Philanthropy)


Massachusetts receives $15 million in federal funds to expand full-day pre-kindergarten offerings in Holyoke, Springfield, Boston, Lowell, and Lawrence. (MassLive)

More tumult at the John F. Kennedy Library, as Thomas Putnam, the well-respected director, resigns, the latest chapter in a mass exodus of staff under Heather Campion, the chief of the library’s foundation. (Boston Globe)

An Eagle-Tribune editorial calls the dwindling enrollment at the North Shore Recovery High School, which caters to students struggling with addictions, an embarrassment given the opioid epidemic facing the region.

Chelmsford, which struggled with a school budget shortfall last year, is facing a similar problem already this year as 15 special needs students need to be placed at schools outside the district at an estimated cost of $778,000. (The Sun)

Elizabeth Backler pleads not guilty to charges of giving oxycodone and diazepam to a female student on the swim team she coached at North Andover High School. (Eagle-Tribune)

The Beverly City Council approves the $109 million price tag for a new middle school. (Salem News)


The Obama administration sent out letters to health insurers clarifying the out-of-pocket expense cap that goes into effect January 1 to ensure people who are married and carry family coverage don’t pay double the costs of individuals. (U.S. News & World Report)


The Berkshire Eagle supports Lee’s quest for authority to levy its own gas tax. (Berkshire Eagle)

Close to 95 percent of the MBTA’s Red, Orange, and Blue line train drivers are pre-certified to take days off under the Family and Medical Leave Act, a “red flag” to managers trying to curb unwarranted absenteeism, says one advocate. (Boston Herald)

The governors of New York and New Jersey ask the federal government to fund half of a new $20 billion Hudson River rail tunnel. (Governing)


National Grid proposes an electricity rate increase for this winter but the rise is not as big as last year. (Telegram & Gazette)

Kinder Morgan chief Kimberly Watson promises the company’s proposed pipeline will lower power prices. (CommonWealth)


A new report finds that more than two-thirds of families of inmates struggle to pay for housing and basic needs when a relative is incarcerated and at least one-third go into debt. (New York Times)

Boston police commissioner William Evans says the department will begin a pilot program testing the use of police-worn body cameras. (Boston Globe)

A curfew in Franklin, New Hampshire, population 8,500, is drawing praise and scorn. (Boston Globe)

Quincy police found a stolen 2004 Red Sox World Series ring among the drugs and cash they seized during a raid of a prescription drug ring. (Patriot Ledger)

MEDIA lays off 12 full-time staffers in the latest shakeup at the Globe-owned website. (Boston magazine)

Amazon plans to offer free or dirt-cheap subscriptions to the Washington Post to its millions of Prime members. (Politico)

Matt Damon comes in for heaps of criticism for his comments about diversity in Hollywood off-camera jobs. (Washington Post)


An appreciation from a protege of noted Harvard political scientist Stanley Hoffmann, “a scholar, an intellectual, and a mensch,” who died over the weekend at age 86. (Vox)