I’ve been speaking to civic groups about Initiative 1240 and one question I get is whether charter schools are unconstitutional in our state. As an attorney my first instinct was to write an 80-page brief in response. But I realized even other attorneys would find that boring, so I came up with something more concise. Here’s my response.
The main constitutional objections are that charter schools would be run by “corporate boards” and that they would not be under the supervision of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Neither objection is true. First, under Initiative 1240 charter schools would be run by non-profit boards, not by corporations. No for-profit entity would be allowed to run a charter school. Second, charter schools are public schools; they are authorized, funded and supervised as part of the public education system. All the educational standards and testing requirements set by the state would apply to charter schools. The teachers would be certified by the state and would be public employees.
Public education has hundreds of different programs and special schools, often called “Innovation Schools,” operating within it. Initiative 1240 would create a program, called “Charter Schools,” within Washington’s public education system.
Initiative 1240 is clearly constitutional.
States across the country have 20 years of experience with charter schools. Today 41 states allow charter schools, and 23 of them recently passed laws expanding access to charter schools. Not one state has repealed its charter school law. If charter schools violated their state constitutions, hostile lawyers in these 41 states would have filed lawsuits to get them shut down. This has not happened, because charter schools are constitutional.
Initiative 1240 would allow a modest number of charter public schools, only 40 charters over a five year period, in a system of 2,345 schools. Public schools that are working for their students would be unaffected, but students ill-served by their local public school, those most at-risk of dropping out, would have the option of attending a charter school instead. These 40 charter public schools would be allowed a great deal of freedom to operate in ways that serve the needs of students.
The Common School manual of central regulations is a book nearly four inches thick. Charter schools under Initiative 1240 would be subject to a rigorous authorizing process and continuing oversight by the state and local school boards, but they would not be loaded down by many of the pointless mandates issued by central district bureaucracies, many of which are unrelated to education.
Principals and teachers in traditional schools are stifled and smothered by all these rules. Charter schools are allowed the freedom to select their own principals, their own teachers, and to design their own learning programs, but they must deliver the same basic education as other public schools. Their teachers are not forced to join a union, although they would have the right to form a union if they wish. In any event, they would negotiate salary and benefits locally with their own school’s principal, not the central district.
Charter schools represent the greatest movement toward educational freedom that we’ve seen in 30 years. If passed, Initiative 1240 would give Washington the best charter school law in the country, because it builds on the long experience of other states.