Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Oral Arguments in Constitutional Challenge to Washington's Charter School Law

In July, a group filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Washington's charter law. The complaint included the standard arguments about funding and uniformity, but also included the relatively unique claim that the charter school structure moved the control of those schools outside of the authority of the state superintendent, violating the constitutional provision that provides:

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. He shall receive an annual salary of twenty-five hundred dollars, which may be increased by law, but shall never exceed four thousand dollars per annum.

Wash. Const. Art. 3, ยง 22.

Late last week, the trial court heard oral arguments in the case.  A local media outlet, Kumo News, summarized the proceeding:

The state attorney general's office, representing the people of Washington, argued the charter law enhances education in Washington and does not circumvent anything in the state Constitution or the court decisions that have clarified sections on education.

. . .

Charter school opponents, represented by Attorney Paul Lawrence, say the law passed by voters last year is unconstitutional because it interferes with the state's obligation to pay for public schools, set a uniform curriculum and establish other rules. Lawrence also argued the law takes authority granted by the Constitution away from the superintendent of public instruction and from the Legislature.

However Assistant Attorney General Dave Stolier said the charter does exactly what the Supreme Court has ordered the Legislature to do: continue to innovate and change to meet the needs of Washington children.

"There's just not enough here to overturn the voters' will in this case," Stolier said. The state is asking the court to grant a motion for summary judgment and stop the lawsuit from going forward.

Both attorneys - and a third lawyer representing the sponsors of the charter school initiative - quoted extensively from recent Supreme Court decisions on education, with a major focus on what's known as the McCleary decision, in which the court ruled that the way the state pays for education is unconstitutional.

One would assume that plaintiffs' primary concerns are the funding shifts and lack of uniformity, but as noted in my earlier posts their strongest claim may be the one in regard to the superintendent.  Unlike other school financing claims, there is a technical hook here and the charter school statute seems to explicitly violate it.

Charters and Vouchers | Permalink


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