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(Washington, D.C.) –The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and twenty-six constitutional and educational law scholars today urged the New Jersey Supreme Court to issue a ruling that will require the Commissioner of Education to affirmatively investigate segregation and threats to the delivery of an adequate education that may result from charter school expansions.

The group filed an amicus brief with the state’s highest court in support of the Education Law Center, which, on behalf of a historically marginalized group of students known as the Abbott children, has appealed a lower appellate ruling affirming the Commissioner of Education’s approval of seven charter school applications to expand in Newark.  

“Charter schools can provide great options for families, but if left unchecked, they can lead to segregation,” said David Hinojosa, director of the Educational Opportunities Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “The demographics in the charter applications should have pushed the commissioner to investigate, but instead, he gave them a pass. The threat of segregation and its detrimental effects on all children is too great to stand on the sidelines.”

The record reflects stark segregative patterns in the charter schools, which tend to enroll highly segregated one-race schools with very few English learners and students with disabilities. In the amicus brief, the organization and scholars cite a strong judicial precedent requiring state officials to prevent both intentional and de facto segregation and to recent data showing how charter schools, both statewide and nationally, may be furthering segregation. The group also showed how charter school growth is impeding Newark’s delivery of an adequate education to its remaining students, who tend to be costlier to educate based on their needs.

Derek Black, Professor of Law at the University of South Carolina School of Law added, “If there is one constant in the New Jersey Supreme Court’s multiple school finance decisions, it is that the state must always be vigilant in ensuring that students in the highest poverty schools have the additional resources they need to obtain an adequate education. Sadly, the rapid and haphazard charter school expansion in Newark has not only drained resources from the neediest schools, it has likely driven up their per-pupil need by allowing further demographic segregation and sorting between charter schools and public schools.”

The group asks the court to consider requiring the commissioner to evaluate several factors to determine whether charter schools may be furthering segregation, including site-location, inter-district demographics, recruitment efforts, staff demographics and certifications and parental and student supports.