A case claiming that limitations on the availability of magnet and charter schools to minority students from poverty constitute discrimination and a denial of a right to a “meaningful education” under the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was dismissed late last month by Alvin W. Thompson, U.S. District Court Judge for the District of Connecticut. Martinez v. Malloy. Plaintiffs had challenged a state statute that had imposed a moratorium on the construction of new inner-city magnet schools and education finance policies that “effectively” cap the opening of new charter schools or the expansion of existing charter schools and limit the number of students who can participate in open choice programs.
The Court held that there is no fundamental right to a minimally adequate education under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in San Antonio Ind’t Sch. Dist. v Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1 (1973.). In doing so, the Court brushed aside, with virtually no analysis, the plaintiffs’ claim that the Supreme Court explicitly left open for future consideration the question of whether some basic level of education is necessary for students to exercise their rights to vote and to exercise free speech under the Fifteenth Amendment and the First Amendment. Since the Court determined that no fundamental federal right to education exists, it did not consider at all the specific question raised by the plaintiffs, i.e., whether lack of access to magnet or charter schools would trigger such a right.
Applying the lower “rational relationship” level of scrutiny that applies to cases not raising fundamental interests, the Court then held that the legislature could “rationally believe that the best and most effective way to address shortcomings in some traditional public schools is to take steps to improve the education opportunities provided in those schools, as opposed to creating and funding an entirely new and more expensive system of charter and magnet schools.”
The plaintiff attorneys, who are supported by Student Matters, a pro-charter group that initiated and lost the Vergara case in California, have announced that they will appeal the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Gary B. v. Snyder, another case raising the question of whether there is a right to a basic education under the federal constitution is currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and a third case that will argue that there is a federal right to an education adequate to prepare students to be capable citizens will be filed shortly in another federal district court by a group of plaintiffs supported by the Center for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University and a number of other groups.