Unions Win Legal Battle Versus Aspire Charters in California

In a year where teachers unions appear to have been losing every battle they fight, a group of Californian unions is enjoying a rare victory. The California Teachers Association, California School Boards Association and Association of California School Administrators sued the State Education Board in 2007 over its granting of the right to open schools anywhere in California to Aspire Public Schools, one of the state's biggest charter school companies.

State law says charters can be allowed to open schools anywhere in California if they can prove their services are a "statewide benefit" that cannot be provided by a charter school overseen by a local district. But in their lawsuit, the school groups claimed the state education board awarded Aspire operating rights without assessing whether a benefit existed.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Jo-Lynne Lee found that the board acted improperly and hadn't evaluated whether the company met the state's requirements. The result of this decision is that six schools now have until June 2013 to gain approval from local school districts or they will have to close.

Karen Stapf-Walters, interim executive director of the school administrators association, claimed the court's decision as a victory:

"We're pleased by the judge's decision to ensure the State Board adopts the required procedural rules so only those charters that truly meet the test of statewide benefit status are considered in the future," Stapf-Walters said. "It is important that all public schools and students are treated equitably."

Aspire is one of the country's most prominent charter school management organizations. It serves almost 12,000 students spread across 34 schools in California. The six campuses that are now under threat account for almost 2,000 of these students. They are Aspire Alexander Twilight College Preparatory Academy and Aspire Alexander Twilight Secondary Academy in Sacramento, Aspire APEX Academy and Aspire Port City Academy in Stockton, and Aspire Junior Collegiate Academy and Aspire Titan Academy in Huntington Park.

Aspire CEO James Willcox said that, based on their history of successful renewal applications, he didn't anticipate any problems gaining approval from the local school boards as required by the judge's decision:

"We are committed to serving all of our students and families who count on Aspire and want to calm any uncertainty that this decision may cause," Willcox said. "As we discussed on our recent conference call, we have applied for charters or renewals nearly 60 times since our founding, with positive results in all cases. We are hopeful that the three school districts involved will recognize the success we have had for students from their communities."

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