December 8, 2015

School district sues popular charter school to stop school choice

By School district sues popular charter school to stop school choice

school-choice3

PLF attorneys filed a brief last week in Anderson Union High School District v. Shasta Secondary Home School. The case concerns efforts by a California school district to limit the educational opportunities offered by a nearby public charter school to the detriment of students in the district.

The school district believes it is losing state funding, because some of its students are choosing to enroll in the charter school instead of the district’s traditional public schools. Rather than suing, the school district should have tried to increase enrollment by improving the educational opportunities at its own schools. That is what the California Legislature intended when it passed the Charter School Act.  The case is at the California Court of Appeal in the Third Appellate District.

The Shasta Charter Academy (formerly known as Shasta Secondary Home School) is a nonclassroom-based public charter school authorized by the Shasta Union High School District in Shasta County. It offers instruction personalized for each of its students in grades 7-12 through various educational models, such as distance learning. The school’s main offices are located in the city of Redding, along with two of its resource centers. The trouble began when the charter school began operating a third resource center in the boundaries of another Shasta County school district: Anderson Union High School District.

Soon, several parents and students rejected the traditional classroom-based education offered by schools in the Anderson district in favor of the innovative nonclassroom-based instruction provided by the out-of-district charter school. This led officials at the Anderson school district to sue the charter school to force it to abandon its new resource center.

As a public charter school, Shasta Charter Academy must enroll all students from Shasta County and its adjacent counties who wish to attend, subject to the school’s capacity.  The disputed resource center currently provides nonclassroom support to students from southern Shasta County and northern Tehama County.

The school district’s lawsuit violates the intent of the California Legislature. The intent of the Legislature in enacting the state’s Charter School Act was not just to provide “competition within the public school system to stimulate improvements in all public schools,” but to provide “vigorous competition.” If Anderson feels threatened by the charter school, the Legislature does not expect Anderson to expend resources by engaging in litigation. Rather, Anderson’s recourse is to vigorously compete and improve the educational opportunities offered at its schools.

Anderson’s legal brief provides numerous facts, but not the facts that are most important to the ultimate resolution of its claimed harm. Anderson’s brief describes the charter school’s educational program, how the disputed resource center “serve[s] an important educational purpose,” and an admission that the charter school’s students would still choose that school over Anderson’s schools, even if the charter school’s resource center was forced to close. But Anderson doesn’t know the one fact that matters most: Why? That is, why will students in its district transfer to the charter school causing the reduction in state funding to Anderson? And why will Anderson district students prefer to attend the charter school even if the resource center at issue is closed?

If Anderson addressed these questions, and competed to improve its educational services, its lawsuit would be unnecessary.  Anderson’s litigious course of action sadly confirms what one study found: School districts are openly hostile to charter schools and view them as enemies that siphon away students and state funding they take with them. Anderson’s litigation will not further the education of its students if the result is a reduction in educational opportunities. Instead, Anderson should determine why its students are choosing to enroll in the competing charter school and offer programs to entice those students to return.

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