- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 15, 2015

BOSTON (AP) - The state’s cap on the number of public charter schools is the target of a new lawsuit, which argues that the limit violates the right to an adequate education included in the state constitution.

Lawyers representing five Boston students filed a class action complaint Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court aimed at lifting the cap, which they describe as an “arbitrary impediment” to students seeking a quality education.

Lawyers say the five are among thousands of Boston students unable to attend a public charter school because they lost a lottery for open seats. The lawsuit asks the court to declare that the cap violates the education clause and declaration of rights of the Massachusetts Constitution.

Gov. Charlie Baker is a supporter of charter schools, as is his Education Secretary James Peyser, who is named as a defendant in the suit. Also named are State Education Commissioner Mitchell Chester; Paul Sagan, the chairman of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education; and the individual members of the board.

The state’s teachers unions have opposed charter schools, arguing they create a two-tier public education system.

Massachusetts Teachers Association president Barbara Madeloni described the lawsuit as part of what she called a “far-reaching goal of privatizing public education in our commonwealth.”

Madeloni argued that charter schools drain tax dollars from traditional public schools and force staff and program cuts while failing to educate those students with the greatest needs.

“The students represented in this legal action definitely deserve a quality education,” she said in a statement. “So do their neighbors and friends who attend district public schools.”

The lawsuit argues that charter schools, not traditional public schools, have enabled “low-income students to learn and excel and to achieve the same results as children in affluent suburban communities.”

The lawsuit - filed on the five students’ behalf by attorneys from three Boston law firms, WilmerHale, Goodwin Procter and Foley Hoag - is the latest volley in the ongoing charter school debate in Massachusetts.

A proposed ballot question would also expand the number of charter schools.

Backers say the question, which could appear on next year’s ballot, would let the state education officials authorize up to 12 new charter schools each year - giving preference to applications from the state’s lowest performing school districts and districts with significant charter school waiting lists.

Baker has said he’s encouraged by the question and hopes to file similar legislation.

About 80 charter schools currently operate in Massachusetts. Proponents say the tens of thousands of children on waiting lists are proof that more charter schools are needed.

The majority of charter schools in Massachusetts, known as Commonwealth Charter schools, operate independently of local school districts and union contracts.

The state also has a handful of Horace Mann Charter Schools that operate with approval of the local districts and their teachers’ unions.

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