Thursday, September 10, 2015

Wash. State Supreme Court's Puzzling Rationale for Outlawing Charter Schools :: Frederick M. Hess

Wash. State Supreme Court's Puzzling Rationale for Outlawing Charter Schools :: Frederick M. Hess:

Wash. State Supreme Court's Puzzling Rationale for Outlawing Charter Schools




Last week the Washington state Supreme Court chose the Friday afternoon before Labor Day to declare the state's charter law unconstitutional. The 6-3 opinion turned on the Washington high court's bizarre ruling that charter schools do not qualify as "common" schools. The court waited nearly a year— until shortly after schools had opened and the school year was underway— to tell more than 1,000 families at nine charter schools that their schools were no longer legal.
In finding charter schools unconstitutional, the Washington Supreme Court broke with the courts in California, Colorado, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio, and Utah— all of which had rejected similar attacks under their own state constitutions. The Washington high court majority claimed that it had no choice, that its hand was forced by Article IX, section 2 of the state's constitution because charter schools are "not common schools." So, let's take a look at Washington's supposedly restrictive definition of "common schools." Article IX, section 2 provides:
The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.
It turns out that the language is actually quite accommodating. In order to reach the astonishing determination that this loose language somehow prohibits charter schooling, the Washington court reached back to a 1909 case, School District No. 20 v. Bryan and quoted:
["Common schools" are] common to all children of proper age and capacity, free, and subject to and under the control of the qualified voters of the school district. The complete control of the schools is a most important feature, for it carries with it the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to select qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent.


There are multiple problems with this as a justification for outlawing charter schools. For one thing, school boards are not the only way for citizens and voters to control of their schools; the Court simply dismissed the relevance of the democratic control exercised through parental choice and charter school boards. Second, there's substantial evidence that district governance does less to empower qualified voters than school district employees who dominate school board elections. That's no reason for courts to question the value of Wash. State Supreme Court's Puzzling Rationale for Outlawing Charter Schools :: Frederick M. Hess:

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