July 20, 2015

Pennsylvanians deserve clear laws and a good education

By Wen Fa Attorney

It’s no secret that many traditional public schools across the country are failing. Yet school districts have insisted repeatedly that they would rather chain children to substandard schools than give those kids a choice to transfer to a better charter school. The Bethlehem Area School District in Pennsylvania is no different. It is trying to stop a successful charter school from opening a second location with an argument that, if accepted, would essentially force Pennsylvanians to choose between clear laws and good schools. Today PLF filed an amicus brief in support of the charter school in Lehigh Valley Dual Language Charter School v. Bethlehem Area School District because Pennsylvanians deserve both.

The Pennsylvania Charter School Law allows charter schools to operate out of “any suitable location.” Contrary to the school district’s argument, a successful charter school isn’t forbidden from operating out of multiple locations just because “location” is in the singular. Under common principles of statutory interpretation, the singular includes the plural. To take one example from Bryan Garner and Justice Antonin Scalia, a statute that makes it illegal to shoot off a rocket within city limits does not exempt a person who shoots off a string of 100 rockets even though the person launched “rockets” and not “a rocket.”

The principle that the singular includes the plural is one that promotes clear laws. It recognizes that there are already enough people who don’t want to read laws, and there’s no need to add to the list with eyesores like “it shall be illegal for a person/multiple persons to launch a rocket/multiple rockets within city limits.” Rather, it suffices to make it “illegal for a person to launch a rocket within city limits” with the implication that the law will cover both group launches and launches of multiple rockets.

This case will have a profound impact on Pennsylvania’s children. There are over a million children on charter school waitlists across the country; many call Pennsylvania “home.” Because charter schools are currently limited to a single location, a lottery determines the future of children trying to leave failing schools. If the Pennsylvania Supreme Court accepts the school district’s argument, educational opportunity will continue to be determined by the luck of the draw. If the court rules in favor of the charter school, educational opportunity will be available to all.

Many thanks to Mark Jakubik, our local counsel who assisted with the filing of PLF’s brief.

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