School Business Affairs January 2019

asbointl.org SCHOOL BUSINESS AFFAIRS | JANUARY 2019 31 legal and legislative issues An ongoing look at the ever-evolving charter school–related litigation. Charter Schools and the Law: An Update By Charles J. Russo, J.D., Ed.D. T he charter school movement began in 1991 when Minnesota enacted the first law authorizing the schools’ creation (Minn. Stat. Ann. §§ 124E.01 et seq .). Minnesota’s law, which is illustrative of other state laws, defines charter schools in this way: “A charter school is a public school and is part of the state’s system of public education. A charter school is exempt from all statutes and rules applicable to a school, school board, or school district unless a statute or rule is made specifically applicable to a charter school or is included in this chapter” (Minnesota Stat. Ann. § 124E.03.1 [2017]). Understanding how charter schools operate is important for education leaders because of the working relationships that often emerge between public school and charter school officials. Applications and Revocations When applying for charters, organizers must submit detailed plans explaining school operations. Able to operate outside many state laws and regulations that apply to regular public schools, organizers and parents are free to develop school missions, curricula, and programs to enhance student learning and to have greater control over the education of their students. Depending on state laws, organizers may have limited rights of appeal if their applica- tions are unsuccessful. As such, litigation has emerged over the denial of applications to operate charter schools. For example, the South Carolina Supreme Court affirmed that when a county board of education failed to satisfy state statutory requirements in explaining why it rejected a charter school application, the operators were entitled to the charter ( Lee County School District Board of Trustees v. MLD Charter School Academy Planning Commis- sion 2007). Similarly, officials at a for-profit charter school in Pennsylvania success- fully challenged a local board’s denial of their application ( Carbondale Area School District v. Fell Charter School 2003). An appellate court affirmed that the organiz- ers complied with appropriate statutory requirements relating to the school’s opera- tion and were entitled to the charter. In a Wyoming case, the applicants sought to operate a charter school in violation of a state law forbidding schools from opening if their sole purpose was to avoid school closures or consolidations ( Laramie County School District No. 2 v. Albin Cats Charter School 2005). The Wyoming Supreme Court held that because the local board’s initial denial of the application was not supported by evidence that the applicants’ intention was to avoid obeying the statute, it had to act anew on the application. At the other end of the process, the Flor- ida Supreme Court permitted the immediate termination of a charter school based on fis- cal mismanagement ( School Board of Palm Beach County v. Survivors Charter School 2009). The highest courts in Florida and the District of Columbia have upheld the revo- cations of charters where organizers failed to meet statutory standards ( Kamit Insti- tute for Magnificent Achievers v. District of Columbia Public Charter School Board 2013; School Board of Palm Beach County v. Survivors Charter School 2009). Similarly, appellate courts in Louisiana, Massachusetts, New York, and Wisconsin upheld the revocation of charters where organizers failed to comply with state laws ( Commonwealth v. Roxbury Charter High Public School 2007a, 2007b; Johnson v. Burmaster 2007, 2008; Pelican Education BBOURDAGES/STOCK.ADOBE.COM

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