Editorial: spokesman.com, July 6, 2013

Suit flunks charter schools before exam

The Washington Education Association clearly doesn’t like the idea of charter schools, but it would be nice if they’d let a couple open and operate before hauling out the ruler and rapping knuckles.

But, no. Here’s the lawsuit that was expected when voters passed Initiative 1240 last November.

The lawsuit, filed Wednesday, contains many of the arguments the majority of voters rejected, so the hope now is that the law runs afoul of the state Constitution in some way.

For instance, the suit says the law should be tossed for “improperly diverting public schools funds to private organizations that are not subject to local voter control and by impeding the State’s constitutional obligation to amply provide for and fully fund K-12 public education.” 

The first point suggests voters would be harmed, but there would be no charter schools on the horizon if it weren’t for voters saying, “Bring them on.”

The second point seems to ignore the additional $1 billion in spending the state Legislature just approved for K-12 education as a direct response to the state Supreme Court’s McCleary decision on funding basic education. Besides, the public money allocated to students follows them to charters, which are public schools. So the rationale that this money can’t be counted as part of the total spent on basic education seems specious.

Finally, do we really want the court to define what “impeding” means in the context of funding basic education? By that logic, any non-K-12 spending could be deemed an impediment, and thus unconstitutional.

The WEA is attempting to define “public schools” as those that exist now, or those that are opened in the future that operate precisely like the current ones. Of course, that defeats the purpose of pursuing charter schools as an alternative. And let’s face it, that’s the real point.

As charters go, this initiative is pretty conservative, so we don’t understand why the state teachers union feels so threatened. Only eight a year can open, for a total of 40 after five years. There are already more than 300 alternative education programs in place, such as Montessori, Odyssey and the Skills Center. The charter application process is thoughtful and rigorous – so rigorous that no charter schools are expected to open this fall.

Spokane Public Schools would like to start a charter school that would assist in closing the achievement gap between low-income and minority students and the rest. Other states have had great success tackling this issue. Then again, most other states have charter schools. National studies show that this is one area where charters can excel.

The National Education Association and the American Teachers Federation have accepted charter schools as a legitimate education alternative. Rather than flunking charters before they’ve taken their first test, we wish the WEA would do the same.



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