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Charter alliance creates fund to protect charter schools in the courts

By   /   November 21, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Courtesy of Nina Rees

PRESERVING CHOICE: Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, says her organization’s new Charter School Legal Action Fund will take the fight for school choice to the courtroom. This is a necessary and strategic move, according to Rees.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools is launching a Charter School Legal Action Fund in hopes of aiding select public charter school cases.

NAPCS wants to add a judicial leg to its efforts because although other organizations focus on protecting school choice programs such as vouchers and education savings accounts, charter school laws are complex because they vary widely by state, Nina Rees, president and CEO of NAPCS, told Watchdog.org.

“Because our ultimate goal is to empower families we thought we needed to ramp up our effort,” said Rees.

The National Alliance’s National Litigation Council, consisting of almost 30 school attorneys from various parts of the country, will collaborate with the Alliance for Public Charter School Attorneys and NAPCS’s Charter School Legal Action Fund to monitor and select pending litigation cases to support financially. By 2017, the Charter School Legal Fund aims to create an additional advisory council consisting of civil rights attorneys and legal scholars.

The focus on the civil rights is necessary to address when organizations such as the NAACP come out against charter schools, said Rees.

The Charter School Legal Fund will seek out local investment on a 1:1 matching basis for each case. This is a strategic move intended to ensure cases supported by the group are driven at the local level.

The Charter School Legal Fund began with an initial investment of $500,000 by the Walton Family Foundation.

The fund’s legal leads, Renita Thukral and Robert Reed, say they view the fund as a way to preserve school choice and ensure access to high-quality educational options for families.

“This Fund will provide our partners who are in the midst of ongoing litigation with strategic support to help them protect and advance charter public schools that are working for students,” said Reed. “Across the 43 states with charter school laws, plus Washington, D.C., we see common, artificial barriers put forth by critics seeking to protect the status quo — which have common solutions. The Charter School Legal Action Fund aims to be a national resource that unites our local efforts, and strengthens the movement, through collaboration — so that children and families are the real winner in any courthouse.”

Thukral said the Charter School Legal Action Fund is already active across the country.

“We are watching, strategizing and fighting back when charter public school students need to be protected: because their funding is at stake, their opportunity to choose a high-quality public school option is at stake, or the politics of low educational expectations threaten the promise of equal educational opportunity offered by charter public schools,” said Thukral.

Thukal says the fund will accomplish the following:

  • Ensure equity and access to meaningful educational opportunity for all public school students interested in attending a charter public school
  • Secure funding to which charter public school students are entitled
  • Protect charter public schools from politically driven and arbitrary decision-making by authorizers
  • Expand the opportunity to enroll in high-quality charter public schools for students and families currently stuck in failing public schools and on charter public school waiting lists.

Rees stressed the purpose of the fund is only to participate in cases where it is clear a high-quality public charter school option is being thwarted by those fighting for the status quo.

“We’re not looking to pick fights,” said Rees, adding that case selection would take place using a rubric and that NAPCS has spent years building expertise in charter laws. Although there are other organizations such as the Institute for Justice who defend school choice, Rees noted they rarely get involved in charter school cases, creating a place for NAPCS to step up and defend public charter schools.

The courtroom is a vital battleground for protecting charter schools, said Rees. “We haven’t pulled that lever yet.”