Doe v. Sec'y of Educ., 95 N.E.3d 241, 479 Mass. 375 (2018)

April 24, 2018 · Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court · SJC–12275
95 N.E.3d 241, 479 Mass. 375

Jane DOE No. 1 1& others2


Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk..

Argued October 2, 2017
Decided April 24, 2018

Kevin P. Martin (Paul F. Ware, Jr., also present), Boston, for the plaintiffs.

Robert E. Toone, Assistant Attorney General (Juliana deHaan Rice & Julia Kobick, Assistant Attorneys General, also present) for the defendants.

Melissa C. Allison, Cambridge, for Savina Tapia & others.

Ira Fader, Alan H. Shapiro, Boston, & John M. Becker, for Massachusetts Teachers Association, amicus curiae, submitted a brief.

Brian C. Broderick & Ryan P. McManus, Boston, for Pioneer Institute, Inc., & others, amici curiae, submitted a brief.

Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Lowy, Budd, Cypher, & Kafker, JJ.


**376Five students who attend public schools in the city of Boston filed a complaint in the Superior Court against the Secretary of Education, the chair and members of the board of secondary and elementary education, and the Commissioner of Education (commissioner), alleging that the charter school cap under G. L. c. 71, § 89 (i), violates the education clause and the equal protection provisions of the Massachusetts Constitution because the students were not able to attend public charter schools of their choosing. A judge of that court allowed the defendants' motion to dismiss. We affirm the judgment of dismissal and conclude, as did the motion judge, that the plaintiffs have failed to *245state a claim for relief under either provision.4

Background. 1. Statutory framework and history. Twenty-five years ago, the Legislature enacted the Education Reform Act of 1993 (1993 Act). St. 1993, c. 71. The 1993 Act "entirely revamped the structure of funding public schools and strengthened the board [of education]'s authority to establish Statewide education policies and standards, focusing on objective measures of student performance and on school and district assessment, evaluation **377and accountability."5 Hancock v. Commissioner of Educ., 443 Mass. 428, 437, 822 N.E.2d 1134 (2005) (Marshall, C.J., concurring). Among other things, the 1993 Act added G. L. c. 71, § 89 (charter school statute), authorizing charter schools to operate in the Commonwealth to encourage innovation in the educational realm. St. 1993, c. 71, § 55.

Policymakers established charter schools as a reaction to what was seen as a traditional public school system resistance to innovative education methods. As the 1993 Act was making its way through the Legislature, one policymaker publicly opined that charter schools were needed because teachers wanted to bring creative teaching styles to the public schools, but principals, superintendents, and school committees often blocked their innovations: "The current system is too rigid, too inflexible[,] and it doesn't adopt to change quick enough to meet the needs of students." State House News Service, Charter Schools (Feb. 24, 1993) (statement of Undersecretary of Education for Policy and Planning Michael Sentance). Ultimately, charter schools were intended to provide "a laboratory for testing different methods and those methods that proved useful ... would be replicated" in traditional public schools. Id. (statement of Senate Ways and Means Chairman Thomas Birmingham). A bill summary accompanying the conference committee report described charter schools as "laboratories of change, allowing for experimentation to encourage creative ways of addressing the needs of the children of the Commonwealth."6 The Education Reform Act of *2461993, **378Conference Committee Report Highlights (May 24, 1993).

There are two types of charter schools: "commonwealth" charter schools and "Horace Mann"7 charter schools. G. L. c. 71, § 89 (a ) and (c ). Horace Mann charter schools are subject to more statutory requirements than commonwealth charter schools. See id. at § 89 (c ). Both types of schools operate under charters granted by the board of elementary and secondary education (board) and each is managed by a board of trustees. Id. However, a Horace Mann charter school must be "approved by the school committee and the local collective bargaining unit in the district where the school is located," whereas a commonwealth charter school operates independently of the local school committee and local collective bargaining unit.8 Id. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (department)9 now identifies these **379"standard" Horace Mann schools as Horace Mann I schools. See 603 Code Mass. Regs. § 1.04(1)(a) (2014). Additionally, charter schools may operate as Horace Mann II or Horace Mann III charter schools. See G. L. c. 71, § 89 (c ) & (i ) ; 603 Code Mass. Regs. § 1.04(1)(a). The latter two schools are subject to requirements that are somewhat different from those to which the Horace Mann I schools are subject. See G. L. c. 71, § 89 (c ) & (i ), as amended by St. 2010, c. 12, § 7; 603 Code Mass. Regs. § 1.04(1)(a).10 *247Commonwealth and Horace Mann charter schools are also funded differently. See 603 Code Mass. Regs. § 1.07 (2014). Horace Mann charter schools operate under budgets determined and annually approved by the local school committee. G. L. c. 71, § 89 (w ). For commonwealth charter schools, the department calculates a tuition payment for each district sending students to the school based on a statutory formula designed "to reflect, as much as practicable, the actual per pupil spending amount that would be expended in the district if the students attended the district schools." Id. at § 89 (ff ). The State treasurer pays these amounts to the schools and then reduces education and other aid payments to the sending districts by the same amounts. Id. See 603 Code Mass. Regs. § 1.07(2)(d).

Since 1993, only a limited number of charter schools have been authorized under the statute. See St. 1993, c. 71, § 55; G. L. c. 71, § 89 (i ). One explanation for the Legislature's decision to limit charter schools is that the limited funds of local school districts are allocated to charter schools and away from traditional public schools each time charter schools expand. See G. L. c. 71, § 89 (w ) & (ff ).11 Widespread concern over the impact of charter schools on public school district revenues supports the conclusion **380that a primary purpose of caps on charter schools is to limit this impact.

As currently written, the charter school statute limits commonwealth charter schools in two ways: a net school spending cap, which applies only to commonwealth charter schools, and a limit on the total number of charter schools permitted to operate in the Commonwealth.12 See G. L. c. 71, § 89 (i ). The net school spending cap limits the amount of school district money that must be set aside for commonwealth charter schools (and therefore limits the amount of commonwealth charter school seats in a district). See id. at § 89 (i ) (2). Net school spending comprises all school district spending on public education, from both State aid and local sources.13 See *248G. L. c. 70, § 2. For most school districts **381in the Commonwealth, the statute limits net school spending to nine per cent of total public education spending. G. L. c. 71, § 89 (i ) (2). However, in districts that the board has designated as the lowest performing ten per cent of school districts Statewide, the net school spending cap is eighteen per cent of total public education spending. Id. 14 The charter school statute also limits the total number of charter schools permitted to operate in the Commonwealth to 120, only seventy-two of which may be commonwealth charter schools. See G. L. c. 71, § 89 (i ) (1).

The history of charter school caps in Massachusetts encompasses multiple legislative enactments spanning several decades. The Legislature has steadily increased the number of permissible charter schools and charter school seats. See St. 1993, c. 71, § 55 (limiting number of charter schools in each city or town and total number of students attending charter schools in Commonwealth to no more than three-quarters of one per cent of public school students; and permitting no more than twenty-five charter schools to operate in Commonwealth at any one time); St. 1997, c. 46, § 2 (increasing total number of charter schools permitted to operate and total number of Commonwealth's public school students permitted to attend charter schools, and setting net school spending cap at six per cent for all districts); St. 2000, c. 227, § 7 (increasing total number of charter schools permitted, but authorizing only seven each year until reaching new total cap; increasing total number of public education students permitted to attend charter schools; and increasing net school spending cap to nine per cent); St. 2010, c. 12, § 7 (increasing net school spending cap to eighteen per cent for commonwealth charter schools located in districts designated as having student performance in lowest ten **382per cent Statewide,15 eliminating cap on total number of Commonwealth's public school students permitted to attend charter schools, and exempting Horace Mann II schools from all caps).

Whether the charter school cap should be lifted continues to be debated vigorously *249in the Commonwealth. Although the Legislature has not increased the caps since 2010, both chambers have frequently considered and voted on measures that would have done so. See 2016 Senate Doc. No. 2203, § 93; 2016 Senate J., Uncorrected Proof (Apr. 7, 2016); 2014 Senate Doc. No. 2262; 2014 House Doc. No. 4108; 2014 House J. 1396-1400; 2014 Senate J., Uncorrected Proof (July 16, 2014). On November 8, 2016, voters considered and rejected ballot question 2, which would have permitted up to twelve new charter schools or enrollment expansions in existing charter schools each year.16

2. Factual and procedural history. The following facts are taken from the plaintiffs' complaint. The plaintiffs are five students who attend, or are assigned to attend, schools in the city of Boston. Each plaintiff attends a school that is designated as a level three or level four school, that is, a school that is in the bottom fifth of all schools Statewide.17 Few students in each of **383the plaintiffs' schools have achieved a level of proficiency or above on subjects tested by the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), which include English language arts, mathematics, and science.18 Each applied to attend a charter school, but failed to secure a seat through the lottery.19 *250In September, 2015, the plaintiffs commenced an action in the Superior Court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. The plaintiffs claimed that their existing schools do not provide a constitutionally adequate education and that the defendants' enforcement of G. L. c. 71, § 89 (i ), violates the education clause and the equal protection provisions of the Massachusetts Constitution. **38420 In their complaint, the plaintiffs sought to represent a class including themselves and all other children attending or assigned to attend constitutionally inadequate schools in Boston who have applied to public charter schools, but have failed to gain entry via the lottery.

In 2015, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiffs' complaint. The motion judge granted the motion, concluding that, although an actual controversy between the parties existed and the plaintiffs had standing to bring their claims against the defendants, the plaintiffs had failed to state a claim under either the education clause or the equal protection provisions of the Massachusetts Declaration of Rights. The plaintiffs appealed, and we allowed their application for direct appellate review.

Discussion. "We review the allowance of a motion to dismiss de novo." Curtis v. Herb Chambers I-95, Inc., 458 Mass. 674, 676, 940 N.E.2d 413 (2011). "For purposes of that review, we accept as true the facts alleged in the plaintiffs' complaints and any exhibits attached thereto, drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiffs' favor." Revere v. Massachusetts Gaming Comm'n, 476 Mass. 591, 595, 71 N.E.3d 457 (2017). Before turning to the substance of the plaintiffs' claims, we must determine whether there is jurisdiction to adjudicate them.

1. Jurisdiction. "[A] plaintiff seeking declaratory relief must demonstrate not only the existence of an actual controversy but also 'the requisite legal standing to secure its resolution' " (citations omitted). Entergy Nuclear Generation Co. v. Department of Envtl. Protection, 459 Mass. 319, 326, 944 N.E.2d 1027 (2011). "The purpose of both the actual controversy and the standing requirements is to ensure the effectuation of the statutory purpose of G. L. c. 231A, which is to enable a court 'to afford relief from ... uncertainty and insecurity with respect to rights, duties, status and other legal relations.' "

*251Massachusetts Ass'n of Indep. Ins. Agents & Brokers v. Commissioner of Ins., 373 Mass. 290, 292, 367 N.E.2d 796 (1977), quoting G. L. c. 231A, § 9, inserted by St. 1945, c. 582, § 1. The questions whether an actual controversy and standing exist are closely related in actions for declaratory relief. Id., citing South Shore Nat'l Bank v. Board of Bank Incorporation, 351 Mass. 363, 366-367, 220 N.E.2d 899 (1966). In declaratory **385judgment actions, both requirements are liberally construed. Massachusetts Ass'n of Indep. Ins. Agents & Brokers, supra at 293, 367 N.E.2d 796. Notwithstanding the defendants' arguments to the contrary, the plaintiffs have adequately demonstrated both an actual controversy and standing.

a. Actual controversy. The plaintiffs here assert that the "actual controversy" here is the fact that they are assigned to inadequate schools and the cap restricts the number of commonwealth charter schools, which, in turn, impedes the plaintiffs' access to an adequate education.21 The defendants argue that because (1) there is no limit on the number of Horace Mann II charter schools, (2) the numerical cap for Horace Mann I and III charter schools has not been reached, and (3) the net school spending cap does not apply to Horace Mann charter schools, the plaintiffs have not presented an "actual controversy." Here, however, we agree with the motion judge that when the plaintiffs refer to "public charter schools" in their complaint, their focus is solely on commonwealth rather than Horace Mann charter schools and they implicitly contend that charter operators are seeking to expand as commonwealth, not Horace Mann, charter schools.22

*252**386One or more of the differences in regulatory treatment of commonwealth charter schools and Horace Mann charter schools under G. L. c. 71, § 89, may explain why charter school operators have opted to apply for and operate commonwealth charter schools in much greater numbers than Horace Mann charter schools. At any rate, the limit on commonwealth charter funding in the charter school statute has been reached in the plaintiffs' district. We need not divine the reason why charter operators favor the commonwealth charter school framework in order to conclude that, for the purposes of determining whether an actual controversy exists, the plaintiffs have an identifiable interest in the opportunity to attend a commonwealth charter school that is actually limited by the caps in the charter school statute. We conclude, as did the motion judge, that the plaintiffs have presented an actual controversy. See G. L. c. 231A, § 1.

b. Standing. A party has standing when it can allege an injury within the area of concern of the statute, regulatory scheme, or constitutional guarantee under which the injurious action has occurred. School Comm. of Hudson v. Board of Educ., 448 Mass. 565, 579, 863 N.E.2d 22 (2007), quoting Enos v. Secretary of Envtl. Affairs, 432 Mass. 132, 135-136, 731 N.E.2d 525 (2000). "[I]t is not enough that the plaintiff be injured by some act or omission of the defendant; the defendant must additionally have violated some duty owed to the plaintiff." Penal Insts. Comm'r for Suffolk County v. Commissioner of Correction, 382 Mass. 527, 532, 416 N.E.2d 958 (1981), quoting L.H. Tribe, American Constitutional Law § 3-22, at 97-98 (1978). The plaintiffs have set forth sufficient facts to demonstrate standing as to both counts in their complaint.

First, the plaintiffs claimed their injury, i.e., an inadequate public education, falls within the area of concern of the education clause of the Massachusetts Constitution. The education clause imposes a duty on the Commonwealth to provide an adequate public education to its schoolchildren. McDuffy v. Secretary of Executive Office of Educ., 415 Mass. 545, 618-619, 621, 615 N.E.2d 516 (1993).

**387Second, the equal protection principles of the Massachusetts Constitution prohibit lawmakers from treating similarly-situated citizens differently without adequate justification. See Goodridge v. Department of Pub. Health, 440 Mass. 309, 330, 798 N.E.2d 941 (2003) ; Massachusetts Fed'n of Teachers, AFT, AFL-CIO v. Board of Educ., 436 Mass. 763, 778-779, 767 N.E.2d 549 (2002). Thus, the plaintiffs' alleged equal protection injury-discrimination in the provision of public education without adequate justification-is within the area of concern of the Constitution's equal protection guarantee. The plaintiffs therefore have standing to bring their declaratory judgment action.

2. Substantive claims. "To survive a motion to dismiss, the facts alleged must 'plausibly suggest[ ] (not merely be consistent with) an entitlement to relief.' " Edwards v. Commonwealth, 477 Mass. 254, 260, 76 N.E.3d 248 (2017), quoting Iannacchino v. Ford Motor Co., 451 Mass. 623, 636, 888 N.E.2d 879 (2008). "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level ... [based] on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Iannacchino, 451 Mass. at 636, 888 N.E.2d 879, quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). "[W]hen the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief, 'this basic deficiency should ... be exposed at the point of minimum expenditure of time and money *253by the parties and the court.' " Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 558, 127 S.Ct. 1955, quoting 5 C.A. Wright & A.R. Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure § 1216, at 233-234 (3d ed. 2004).

a. Education clause claim. The plaintiffs allege that they attend noncharter public schools that are constitutionally inadequate. They assert that their assignment to inadequate schools is caused by a statutory provision prohibiting more than eighteen per cent of their school district's funding from being allocated to commonwealth charter schools. See G. L. c. 71, § 89 (i ). Accordingly, they contend that the charter school cap statute violates the education clause.

We agree with the plaintiffs that the education clause imposes an affirmative duty on the Commonwealth to provide a level of education in the public schools for the children there enrolled that qualifies as constitutionally "adequate."23 See McDuffy, 415 Mass. at 618-619, 621, 615 N.E.2d 516. However, we conclude that they have **388failed to state a claim under the education clause because, to state a claim, the plaintiffs would need to plead facts suggesting not only that they have been deprived of an adequate education but also that the defendants have failed to fulfil their constitutionally prescribed duty to educate. See Hancock, 443 Mass. at 435, 822 N.E.2d 1134 (Marshall, C.J., concurring); McDuffy, 415 Mass. at 621, 615 N.E.2d 516. Here, the plaintiffs have fulfilled the former but not the latter condition.

To allege that the Commonwealth has failed to fulfil its duty to educate, plaintiffs must plead sufficient facts that, accepted as true, demonstrate that the Commonwealth's extant public education plan does not provide reasonable assurance of an opportunity for an adequate education to "all of its children, rich and poor, in every city and town," McDuffy, 415 Mass. at 606, 615 N.E.2d 516, over a reasonable period of time, or is otherwise "arbitrary, nonresponsive, or irrational." See Hancock, 443 Mass. at 435, 822 N.E.2d 1134 (Marshall, C.J., concurring); id. at 457, 459, 822 N.E.2d 1134 ;

*254Doe v. Superintendent of Schs. of Worcester, 421 Mass. 117, 129, 653 N.E.2d 1088 (1995) ; McDuffy, supra at 606, 618, 621, 615 N.E.2d 516. Here, although the plaintiffs' complaint supports the claim that the education provided in their schools is, at the moment, **389inadequate,24 they have not alleged any facts to support a claim that the Commonwealth's public education plan does not provide reasonable assurance of improvements for their schools' performance over a reasonable period of time. As was the case in Hancock, there may be moments in time where particular public schools are not providing an adequate education to their students. See Hancock, supra at 457, 822 N.E.2d 1134 (Marshall, C.J., concurring) (although some students were not at full academic competency, coordinate branches were satisfactorily acting on their education clause duty). This alone is insufficient to support a claim that the Commonwealth has failed to fulfil its constitutional obligation.25 See id.

In order to establish that their schools are performing poorly, the plaintiffs utilize classifications established by the department's regulations classifying schools based on performance in order to "hold districts and schools accountable for educating their students well and to assist them in improving the education they provide." 603 Code Mass. Regs. § 2.01(3) (2012). See id. at § 2.02 (defining "[l]evels 1 through 5" as "the levels in the [d]epartment's framework for district accountability and assistance ... in which schools and districts in the Commonwealth are placed"); id. at § 2.03(1).26 See note 17, supra. Although the plaintiffs allege that their education is inadequate because two of **390their schools have been designated by the Commonwealth as level four schools and three have been designated as level three schools, they do not claim that the Commonwealth's framework for ensuring that all schools, including the plaintiffs', meet constitutional educational adequacy *255fails to satisfy the requirements of the education clause. They instead focus solely on the charter school cap. As there is no constitutional entitlement to attend charter schools, and the plaintiffs' complaint does not suggest that charter schools are the Commonwealth's only plan for ensuring that the education provided in the plaintiffs' schools will be adequate, the Superior Court judge did not err in dismissing the plaintiffs' education clause claim.

Furthermore, even if the plaintiffs had successfully stated a claim under the education clause, the specific relief that they seek would not be available. The education clause provides a right for all the Commonwealth's children to receive an adequate education, not a right to attend charter schools. "[T]he education clause leaves the details of education policymaking to the Governor and the Legislature." Hancock, 443 Mass. at 454, 822 N.E.2d 1134 (Marshall, C.J., concurring). Although a violation of the education clause may result in judicial action to remedy the wrong, the clause does not permit courts to order "fundamentally political" remedies or "policy choices that are properly the Legislature's domain." Id. at 460, 822 N.E.2d 1134.

Thus, here, although the remedy the plaintiffs seek by way of this action, i.e., expanding access to charter schools, could potentially help address the plaintiffs' educational needs, other policy choices might do so as well, such as taking steps to improve lower-performing traditional public schools. There may be any number of equally effective options that also could address the plaintiffs' concerns; however, each would involve policy considerations that must be left to the Legislature. See id. at 460, 822 N.E.2d 1134. Whether to divert an increased amount of school district funds from traditional public schools to charter schools to comply with the education clause mandate is a **391choice for the Legislature, not for the courts.27 See id. See also id. at 484, 822 N.E.2d 1134 (Greaney, J., dissenting) (acknowledging "the disagreement between competent experts on how best to remediate a nonperforming or poorly-performing school district").

b. Equal protection claim. "The Declaration of Rights of the Constitution of this Commonwealth in arts. 1, 6, 7, [and] 10 ... contain[s] ample guarantees for equal protection [of the laws]." Brest v. Commissioner of Ins., 270 Mass. 7, 14, 169 N.E. 657 (1930). The plaintiffs claim the charter school cap violates their right to equal protection because it creates two classes of children: those who are guaranteed to receive an opportunity for an adequate education because all traditional public schools in their districts provide one, and those in districts with many failing schools whose educational prospects are determined by a lottery. Even assuming that the statute at issue meets the requirement of being discriminatory for the purposes of an equal protection analysis,28 we conclude that the plaintiffs do not state a plausible claim.

*256In order to evaluate whether the plaintiffs' complaint contains factual allegations plausibly suggesting that the statute violates the equal protection, we must determine the appropriate standard of review that would apply to their claim.

For purposes of equal protection analysis, strict scrutiny of a statute is appropriate where the statute either burdens a fundamental right or targets a suspect class. Goodridge, 440 Mass. at 330, 798 N.E.2d 941 ; Murphy v. Department of Correction, 429 Mass. 736, 739-740, 711 N.E.2d 149 (1999). Here, although the plaintiffs do not allege that a suspect **392class is involved, they argue that the charter school cap statute deserves strict scrutiny because it burdens a fundamental right to education protected by the Massachusetts Constitution.29

We have had occasion to hold that the Massachusetts Constitution does not guarantee each individual student the fundamental right to an education in circumstances in which a student's behavior leads to expulsion. See Doe v. Superintendent of Schs. of Worcester, 421 Mass. at 129-130, 653 N.E.2d 1088 (declining "to hold ... that a student's right to an education is a 'fundamental right' which would trigger strict scrutiny analysis whenever school officials determine, in the interest of safety, that a student's misconduct warrants expulsion"). Although heightened scrutiny does not apply in the individual student misconduct context, whether the education clause implies heightened scrutiny of education-related discriminatory classifications in other circumstances is an open question. We need not determine whether such circumstances exist and, if so, what they might be, in order to conclude that heightened scrutiny does not apply to the charter school cap statute. See Lee v. Commissioner of Revenue, 395 Mass. 527, 530, 481 N.E.2d 183 (1985) (where fundamental right is at issue, not every statute that affects that right must be supported by compelling State interest).

Under an equal protection analysis, only a statute that "significantly interfere[s] with" the fundamental right at issue burdens that right and justifies application of strict scrutiny. Zablocki v. Redhail, 434 U.S. 374, 386, 98 S.Ct. 673, 54 L.Ed.2d 618 (1978).30 Even if we were to conclude that circumstances exist where the Constitution protects a fundamental right to education, we do not think that the right could be characterized in such a manner that, on these alleged facts, the charter school cap statute interferes with it significantly.

*257The Legislature first created charter schools as laboratories only twenty-five years ago to accomplish purposes such as "simulat[ing] the development of innovative programs within public **393education" and "provid [ing] models for replication in other public schools." G. L. c. 71, § 89 (b ). Although the charter school statute is simultaneously intended to provide parents and students with greater options in selecting schools,31 and to encourage and even pressure traditional public schools to innovate and improve,32 the plaintiffs have no constitutional right to attend charter schools, and the charter school cap does not interfere with the students' ability to attend traditional public schools. Where the charter school cap statute "neither burdens a fundamental right nor targets a suspect class," it is subject to rational basis review. Murphy, 429 Mass. at 739-740, 711 N.E.2d 149 ; Lee, 395 Mass. at 532, 481 N.E.2d 183.

Under rational basis review, a law "will be upheld as long as it is rationally related to the furtherance of a legitimate state interest." English v. New England Med. Ctr., Inc., 405 Mass. 423, 428, 541 N.E.2d 329 (1989), quoting Dickerson v. Attorney Gen., 396 Mass. 740, 743, 488 N.E.2d 757 (1986). At the same time, under the Massachusetts Constitution, "equal protection analysis requires the court to look carefully at the purpose to be served by the statute in question and at the degree of harm to the affected class." English, supra.

"[C]haracterizing the tests to be applied to determine the constitutional validity of legislation as '[rational basis]' and 'strict scrutiny' is shorthand for referring to the opposite ends of a continuum of constitutional vulnerability determined at every point by the competing values involved." Id. at 428-429, 541 N.E.2d 329, quoting Marcoux v. Attorney Gen., 375 Mass. 63, 65 n.4, 375 N.E.2d 688 (1978). This method of analysis highlights that the "rational basis test 'includes a requirement that an impartial lawmaker could logically believe that the classification would serve a legitimate public purpose that transcends the harm to the members of the disadvantaged class." English, supra at 429, 541 N.E.2d 329, quoting Cleburne v. Cleburne Living Ctr., Inc., 473 U.S. 432, 452, 105 S.Ct. 3249, 87 L.Ed.2d 313 (1985) (Stevens, J., concurring). That standard is met here.

Although the charter school cap cannot be said to burden any potential fundamental right, based on the facts alleged in the plaintiffs' complaint, the charter school cap nevertheless may impose a serious degree of harm on the plaintiffs and others in the plaintiffs' position given the nature of the educational interest at **394stake. The plaintiffs' educational interest is undeniably greater than an interest in operating a self-service gasoline station, see Shell Oil Co. v. Revere, 383 Mass. 682, 683, 421 N.E.2d 1181 (1981) ; an interest in selling alcoholic beverages on Sundays, see Chebacco Liquor Mart, Inc. v. Alcoholic Beverages Control Comm'n, 429 Mass. 721, 721-722, 711 N.E.2d 135 (1999) ; a math teacher's interest in not taking an assessment test prior to license renewal, see Massachusetts Fed'n of Teachers, AFT, AFL-CIO, 436 Mass. at 777, 767 N.E.2d 549 ; or an interest in possessing marijuana, see Commonwealth v. Leis, 355 Mass. 189, 195, 243 N.E.2d 898 (1969). See also *258Hancock, 443 Mass. at 485-486, 822 N.E.2d 1134 (Ireland, J., dissenting), quoting Brown v. Board of Educ. of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483, 493, 74 S.Ct. 686, 98 L.Ed. 873 (1954) ("it is doubtful that any child may reasonably be expected to succeed in life if he is denied the opportunity of an education"). However, the purposes of the charter school cap reflect a legislative attempt to balance the plaintiffs' strong educational interest with other interests that are just as strong. As a result, we conclude that no plausible set of facts exist to overcome the statute's presumption of rationality.

The charter school cap reflects the education interests of students in the Commonwealth who do not attend charter schools. As the Superior Court judge noted in this case, funding for charter schools necessarily affects the funding for traditional public schools. The cap is an effort to allocate education funding among all the Commonwealth's students attending these two types of publicly funded schools. Because of the statutory funding mechanism that mandates payment of charter school tuition from resources that would otherwise go to traditional public schools, the expansion of charter schools has detrimental effects on traditional public schools and the students who rely on those schools and their services. See G. L. c. 71, § 89. The process of balancing these competing values in education "calls for ... legislative judgments as to the desirability, necessity, or lack thereof of" charter schools. Zayre Corp. v. Attorney Gen., 372 Mass. 423, 437, 362 N.E.2d 878 (1977). This attempt to allocate resources among all the Commonwealth's students represents the rational basis for the statutory cap.

There are other legitimate public purposes that would provide a rational basis for the statute as well. For example, limits on charter schools may be based on a policy concern regarding the departure from local democratic control over public schools by local school committees because charter schools are instead governed by private boards of trustees. Additionally, a limit on charter **395school growth permits education administrators to assess, manage, and develop for replication any innovative educational practices that develop in charter schools for the students enrolled in traditional public schools. It cannot be said that these goals and the charter school cap are "so attenuated as to render the [cap] arbitrary or irrational." Murphy v. Commissioner of the Dep't of Indus. Accs., 415 Mass. 218, 230, 612 N.E.2d 1149 (1993), quoting Cleburne, 473 U.S. at 446, 105 S.Ct. 3249.

The plaintiffs argue that the Legislature's specific decision to set the charter school cap at eighteen per cent of net school spending in their school district is irrational. However, "[l]egislative line drawing ... does not violate equal protection principles simply because it 'is not made with mathematical nicety or because in practice it results in some inequality.' " Chebacco Liquor Mart, Inc., 429 Mass. at 723, 711 N.E.2d 135, quoting Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U.S. 471, 485, 90 S.Ct. 1153, 25 L.Ed.2d 491 (1970).

Although deciding the issue whether a law is supported by a rational basis on a motion to dismiss rather than later in litigation may present the exception rather than the rule,33 for the foregoing reasons, *259we conclude that the motion judge properly dismissed the equal protection claim because there is no plausible set of facts that the plaintiffs could prove to support a conclusion that the charter school cap does not have a rational basis. See Iannacchino, 451 Mass. at 636, 888 N.E.2d 879 ("What is required at the pleading stage are factual allegations plausibly suggesting [not merely consistent with] an entitlement to relief" [quotations and citation omitted] ).

Additionally, the Constitution demands respect for the products of the democratic process. See Commonwealth v. Henry's Drywall Co., 366 Mass. 539, 544, 320 N.E.2d 911 (1974) ("It is not our function to consider the expediency of an enactment or the wisdom of its **396provisions"). As outlined supra, charter school funding and caps have been subject to frequent and intense scrutiny by the Legislature and the public at large,34 see note 17, supra, with advocates advancing arguments on behalf of legitimate student interests on both sides. Where a statute does not use a suspect classification or burden a fundamental right, is supported by a rational basis, and does not otherwise violate the Constitution, advocates may not turn to the courts merely because they are unsatisfied with the results of the political process. See Zayre Corp., 372 Mass. at 433, 362 N.E.2d 878 ("principle of judicial restraint includes recognition of the inability and undesirability of the judiciary substituting its notions of correct policy for that of a popularly elected Legislature"); Commonwealth v. Perry, 155 Mass. 117, 123-125, 28 N.E. 1126 (1891) (Holmes, J., dissenting) (emphasizing importance of judicial restraint when evaluating popular public policy). See also Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45, 74-78, 25 S.Ct. 539, 49 L.Ed. 937 (1905) (Holmes, J., dissenting) (stressing restraint from judicial adaptation of policies "which a large part of the country does not entertain").

Conclusion. For the reasons stated above, we conclude that the plaintiffs failed to state a claim that G. L. c. 71, § 89 (i ), violates the education clause or equal protection rights embodied in the Massachusetts Constitution. The judgment of the Superior Court is affirmed.

So ordered.