Atlantic Legal Foundation
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Larchmont, NY 10538
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Atlantic Legal has been a strong and influential advocate of school choice, and our persistent efforts to support parents' and students' rights to educational excellence are paying remarkable dividends. Our recent victory in New Jersey is a case in point.
The Red Bank Charter School, a middle school serving 80 students from the fourth through the eighth grades, opened in the fall of 1998. The school was a smashing success, a truly innovative, genuinely effective alternative to the public middle school. Test results were high; the waiting list was long. Free and open to all, the Red Bank Charter School was poised to make a deep and lasting impact on the quality of education offered to its students. In the fall of 2001, the school applied to the Commissioner of Education to renew and expand its charter for another five years. Based on its initial success, the Red Bank Charter School sought to increase the enrollment of fourth through eighth graders as well as to enroll children in kindergarten through third grade. After a site visit and comprehensive review, the Commissioner of Education granted the Red Bank Charter School's request. Trouble arose, however, when the Red Bank Board of Education opposed the renewal and expansion of the school's charter.
The Board appealed to the State Board of Education, which upheld the Commissioner's original decision. The Board then appealed to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division. Arguing on behalf of the Red Bank school district, the New Jersey Education Association and the ACLU stated three main objections to the Commissioner's decision: that it was draining white students from the public school and was thus segregating the district; that the school's funding would impoverish the district and so damage the public school's ability to deliver "thorough and efficient" education; and that the Commissioner denied the school board due process by not holding a hearing to determine whether the charter should be renewed. The NJEA argued that the school should be closed. The ACLU argued that the Commissioner should rethink the decision to renew in light of a careful evaluation of the charter school's effect on racial distribution in the district's schools. In the charter school's defense, Atlantic Legal submitted an amicus brief on behalf of Excellent Education for Everyone, a broadly based school choice advocacy group in New Jersey. Our brief methodically dismantled the case against Red Bank Charter School.
In deciding the case in March 2004, the Appellate Division adopted virtually all of Atlantic Legal's arguments and approved the renewal and extension of the Red Bank Charter School. Significantly, the appellate court flatly rejected arguments made by the District Board and by the ACLU and the New Jersey Education Association. The court's very comprehensive opinion eliminates many potential road-blocks for New Jersey charters for when they seek renewal or expansion.