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Editorial: Suit to stop AIMS branch hurts parents, students

Parents who live in Rio Rancho and the West Side will have to be content for the time being driving their child across town to a campus near the University of New Mexico Pit if they are lucky enough to win the lottery that grants them admission to one of the top-ranked schools in America – public or private.

The Rio Rancho Public Schools officials who oppose opening a campus of the Albuquerque Institute of Mathematics and Science charter school in the City of Vision appear to have won this round of beat the clock. AIMS has abandoned, at least for now, a plan to open classrooms this fall at the UNM West campus in Rio Rancho and instead will expand operations on the UNM South campus in Albuquerque. Good for Albuquerque – sad for the West Side and Rio Rancho.

AIMS was one of three New Mexico schools named by the U.S. Department of Education as a Blue Ribbon school for the 2012-13 school year. Its high school is ranked No. 64 in the nation and No. 1 in New Mexico by U.S. News and World Report. It is No. 48 on The Washington Post’s 2014 list of most challenging high schools – public and private. And it’s in the top 25 percent of Newsweek’s 2014 top 2,000 schools in the country.

The public charter school, which is allied with UNM and whose high school students must earn 24 hours of college credit before graduating, was seeking to expand from its UNM South campus location into two classrooms at the UNM West campus in Rio Rancho’s City Center.

Although it’s hard to fathom why a huge public school district would oppose a small, quality public school, the Rio Rancho School District is doing just that on technical grounds, going as far as to file a lawsuit to stop it.

The district contends AIMS did not give it proper notice of its intentions to open at UNM West and that AIMS cannot jump from its physical location within the Albuquerque Public Schools district boundaries – though it is a state charter that has no relationship with APS – to a physical location within the Rio Rancho district without a new charter.

Charter schools must submit a new charter before crossing district lines, but State Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera gave AIMS a waiver to open up in Rio Rancho. Rio Rancho has appealed to Santa Fe District Court claiming Skandera overreached her authority because she did not consult with the Public Education Commission, an elected board that governs charter schools.

The commission did weigh in, voting not to support Skandera’s waiver. It said a waiver request must be accompanied by support from the applicant’s local school board and AIMS had not provided evidence that APS supported its expansion.

That’s an odd determination. Since AIMS was chartered through the state, it would appear APS does not have standing – or any reason – to have a say about a school that is not under its umbrella.

UNM’s Board of Regents and Rio Rancho’s City Council have given their blessing to AIMS’ plan.

In the end, the issue boils down to granting more families choice about the education their children can receive. Middle-class and lower-income families who would opt for something different often lack the financial resources to send their children to expensive private schools. The better charter schools provide them with viable options.

Protracted legal action does not benefit children, and it is unfortunate Rio Rancho schools would rather spend tax dollars on a lawsuit than on education.

However the lawsuit goes, the real losers in this battle are the motivated parents and students in Rio Rancho and the West Side who decide that it’s just too far to drive to benefit from AIMS’ unique programs.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.