PAA-Washington letter on new charter school law

Dec. 5, 2012

To Superintendent Dorn:

Parents Across America of Washington State, the local chapters of the national organization dedicated to the preservation of public education, has concluded that Initiative 1240 is in violation of the Washington State Constitution on multiple counts.

We therefore urge the Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to pursue a legal challenge to I-1240, based on the following grounds:

1.      I-1240 would establish a charter school commission comprised of politically appointed members with no election by, or accountability to, the general public. It would allocate authorization and accountability for charter schools to this commission, circumventing state-mandated oversight of our public schools by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and local school boards. (Yet this commission would cost taxpayers an estimated $3 million.) The creation of such a commission would be in violation of state law which requires public oversight of all public schools. (See: Article III, Section 22, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Duties and Salary. “The superintendent of public instruction shall have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools, and shall perform such specific duties as may be prescribed by law.”)

2.      Charter schools would not meet the definition of “common schools.” Since 1909, a “common school” has been defined as “one that is common to all children of proper age and capacity, free, and subject to, and under the control of, the qualified voters, of a school district.” Sch. Dist. No. 20, Spokane County v. Bryan, 51 Wn. 498, 99 P. 28 (1909). The state constitution also mandates a “general and uniform system of public schools.” Instead, Initiative 1240 would create an unequal subset of schools that would be granted exclusive rights and resources not accorded all schools and all children. These schools would be exempt from public oversight, violating state law that requires all public schools to be “common schools” and part of a “uniform system.” Subsequently, if charter schools are not “common,” then they do not qualify for state funding as stipulated in Article IX, Section 2, which states: “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.”

3.       Initiative 1240 also violates state law as recognized by the McCleary decision of January 5, 2012 (McCleary v. State of Washington), which maintains that the state has a constitutionally mandated (Article IX, section 1) “paramount duty” to fully fund all of its public schools. I-1240 would divert funding from common schools to specific schools with unique rights, creating inequity, and further diluting already inadequate resources from our public (“common”) schools, which is in violation of this law.

As the extremely close election demonstrated (50.7 – 49.3%, despite the enormous financial advantage of the “Yes” campaign, which outspent both “No” campaigns by a margin of 17-1), clearly charter schools remain a divisive, controversial and unpopular concept in Washington State.  (See:http://vote.wa.gov/results/current/Initiative-Measure-No-1240-Concerns-creation-of-a-public-charter-school-system.html  Also: Map of votes for/against I-1240

http://seattletimes.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/politicsnorthwest/files/2012/12/2012Initiative1240Precincts1.pdf)

Parents Across America of Washington finds I-1240 to be an extremely flawed, unconstitutional and undemocratic proposal which circumvents genuine public oversight, and is full of troubling loopholes and opportunities to divert public funding away from our existing schools to private enterprises for proposed outcomes that statistically are no better than existing public schools 83 percent of the time (See: CREDOReport by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes: http://credo.stanford.edu/reports/National_Release.pdf).

Therefore, as parents with children in Washington State public schools who will be affected by this initiative, and as supporters of public education, we urge OSPI to legally challenge 1240.

Sincerely,

Susan Peters, Dora Taylor, Joanna Cullen, David Spring, Steve Nesich, Linda Gower, Anastasia Samuelsen, Susan Ryan, Pat Griffith, Chris Van Vechten, Demian Godon, Parents across America, Washington State (Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, and Tri-City chapters)

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