Education union seeks to stop children from attending charter schools

The Washington Education Association launched its long-anticipated legal attack on charter schools today.  Lawyers for the powerful public-sector union filed suit in King County Superior Court to overturn voter-approved Initiative 1240.  If successful, the lawsuit would deny access to charter schools to Washington school children.

The suit argues that in enacting Initiative 1240 voters violated the state constitution by “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.” 

WEA lawyers were joined in the suit by leaders from anti-charter groups, including Washington Association of School Administrators, the League of Women Voters, and El Centro de la Raza. 

These groups were heavily involved in last year’s unsuccessful political campaign to defeat charter school legalization in Washington.  As part of the No on Charters 1240 campaign they argued, “Most of our children won’t have access to these [charter] schools...”  They lost, but now they want to keep all children from attending a charter school in Washington. 

The WEA union is widely recognized as the primary obstacle to education reform in the state, so education analysts have long expected an anti-Initiative 1240 lawsuit would be filed some time this year.  The move, however, puts the union in the unpopular position of trying to stop an important educational improvement that benefits children and is supported by parents, the public and, yes, many school teachers. 

This report is part of Washington Policy Center’s Initiative 1240 Follow-Up Project.


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Ken Mortland July 04, 2013 at 12:22 PM
Courts are the more appropriate venue for citizens with differences to sort out the issues and perhaps resolve them. It is even more important, if the issue is the constitutionality of an initiative. But, it saddens me, when a group of citizens is belittled for going to court. But that is what the Washington Policy Center is doing. By way of transparency and full disclosure, I was part of the No on I-1240 Campaign as a member of its speakers bureau. Now that it is the law in Washington state, I am a voluntary, attending as many meetings of the new charter schools commission as I can, providing relevant information, testifying, and generally seeking to help Washington produce the best charter school system possible. I commend WPC for including a link on this posting that allows the reader to go directly to the web page where WEA and its allied groups explain their challenge to the law. However, to characterize the Washington Association of School Administrators, the League of Women Voters, and El Centro de la Raza as “anti-charter groups” is to suggest that is the primary reason for their existence and is an effort to publicly belittle them. Also, to state that the WEA is “the primary obstacle to education reform” is to ignore the huge efforts and expense put forward by WEA in support of reforming teacher/principal evaluation protocols and in supporting Washington state’s Student Improvement Grant schools. This is primarily an effort to belittle WEA. IF I-1240 is found unconstitutional, the lawsuit will have served a purpose far more important than the eliminating charter schools. It will have ensured that Washington’s law, whether passed by the legislature or by initiative, are constitutional. We all benefit from that endeavor.
Ken Mortland July 04, 2013 at 12:24 PM
Here is the body of the lawsuit's explanation for readers to evaluate for themselves. The Complaint asserts that the Charter School Act violates the Washington Constitution in at least seven ways: 1. It improperly delegates the State’s constitutional “paramount duty” to provide for the education of children within its borders to private organizations that are not subject to the requirements and standards in place to ensure that all children receive a constitutionally sufficient education. 2. It also violates the State’s paramount duty to make ample provision for the education of all children within its borders by interfering with the State’s progress toward complying with the Washington Supreme Court directive to the Legislature to fully fund basic educational programs by 2018, as set forth in the 2012 McCleary decision. 3. It unconstitutionally diverts public funds that are restricted to use for public common schools to private charter schools that are not subject to local voter control. 4. It violates the Constitution’s “general and uniform” provision because charter schools are not subject to many laws and regulations applicable to public schools, including many of the provisions defining a basic education. 5. It amends existing state law in a manner not permitted by the Constitution. 6. It violates the constitutional requirement that the superintendent of public instruction “have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools.” 7. It violates the Constitution because it mandates the use of local voter-approved levy funds for a purpose other than the purpose for which the voters approved the levies.
E. M. July 04, 2013 at 01:52 PM
Charter schools,,,absolutely. Parents have the right to choose a school for their children. Until now, only those that could afford a private school had that choice. Now it will be fair for everyone. Public schools can provide the wrong environment for many children. Besides, competition is a good thing.
Ken Mortland July 04, 2013 at 02:15 PM
Just as a matter of curiosity, where do you find this right? If the state supreme court rules the initiative unconstitutional, would that not mean there is no such right? Isn't that why we have courts; to settle such issues?
Ellis Reyes July 05, 2013 at 01:03 AM
Ken: Can't you see that parents just want choices? That traditional school might not be the best solution for every kid? I'm a pretty good teacher, but I'm not so arrogant as to believe that my classroom is the best fit for every child. Maybe charter schools have been a disaster elsewhere, but that doesn't mean that we have to follow in their missteps. Why not learn from them and do a better job for our kids in Washington? Teachers across the country are complaining about our increasingly assessment driven school cultures; if a charter can be organized that sidesteps those restrictions wouldn't that be better? STEM/STEAM centered curricula are gaining rightful traction, would it be all bad to create a school with STEM/STEAM as its central theme? Can you see how difficult this would be to do in a traditional school with all of its competing constituencies and interests? I think that by attacking charters at this point we're throwing the baby out with the bath water and that the argument is far more political than it is pedagogical.
Edwin July 05, 2013 at 02:40 AM
To me this is about union control of education. Frequently those who oppose legislation look to have it reversed or changed on legal grounds of any means. Pick any divided issue and that is what I see. I used to oppose charter schools until recently and now support as it creates competition for students by schools and motivates them to continually improve. I do not see this in our public school system as there are significant road blocks to change
Ken Mortland July 05, 2013 at 01:34 PM
Ellis: Just because we want something, doesn't make it constitutional. Some years ago, we (Washington votes) wanted to impose term limits on members of Congress. In our haste, we neglected to consider that individual states are not empowered to amend the US Constitution by themselves. Cong. Tom Foley from Spokane pointed that out by winning a court challenge to the law. Voters punished him by electing someone else the next election, but the courts pointed out that he'd be right. The question here is, am I (as a taxpayer) obliged to pay for the private school tuition of someone else's child? Reasonable, decent people disagree, so the matter is going to court.
Ken Mortland July 05, 2013 at 01:35 PM
Edwin: If, as you contend, this is just a matter of control; the court will most likely find the initiative constitutional. However, if the court find the initiative unconstitutional, will you agree that the issue was a valid one to bring to the courts?
blanche deveroux July 05, 2013 at 07:25 PM
“Just as a matter of curiosity, where do you find this right?” Perhaps the commenter Evy should have phrased it as parents have a choice instead of a “right”. Yes, parents can make that choice (have a choice) & sacrifice material objects to keep their children in a parochial or private school. It's not uncommon for a parent to work 2 jobs so that the children get an education in that type of environment. I had an opportunity to be in a local High school, junior classroom. I was appalled at the lack of respect & how these individuals behaved. Three of the kids sat in the front continuously chatting in Spanish, looking at cell phones. Others in the back of the room were texting, one kid was MIA for 45 minutes, one young lady walked in with pants so tight it looked like she was poured in to them & to top that off wearing at least 3 inch heel tart trotters (where is her mother?). Is it any wonder parents want a different learning atmosphere. In my opinion it should be mandatory for students to wear a school uniform. There wouldn’t be the rivalry over who has the best sneakers, jeans etc. Its horrifying that a junior or senior has no clue as to who the current Vice President of the United States is let alone the governor of WA (school in Olympia). And then there are the unions, while I will agree that unions have had a useful purpose but not so much anymore. Are the unions afraid that the charter schools will out-perform public schools? Since the charter schools are outside the public unionized system they will have the freedom to be innovative and less interference from the state bureaucracy A charter school is a choice that should be available to parents.
Randy Hayden July 06, 2013 at 11:55 AM
The courts have already said that Public school aren't holding to the constitutional right of providing a good education. Do you really think that throwing more money at a flawed system is the anwser?
Ken Mortland July 06, 2013 at 01:15 PM
Randy: I'm not sure what court decision you are referring to, but the Supreme Court's decision on McCleary was limited to the state's lack of meeting its "paramount duty" to fund education. It says nothing about the public schools needing to improve, as that was never an issue of law in the lawsuit. The Court certainly feels more funding is warranted.
Randy Hayden July 07, 2013 at 11:18 AM
I was referring to the McCleary decision. Like I said throwing more money at a flawed system isn't the answer. Washington state ranks around 43rd in the nation for dollars that make it into the class room. If they brought that up to the national average that would put 100 million back into teaching. If they followed Federal Ways school system that would put 500 million back into the class room. The public school system is afraid of charter schools, any competition makes both sides better! So it appears that this isn't about the children it's about the teachers union wanting to be in control of the public's tax money.
Ken Mortland July 07, 2013 at 12:29 PM
Randy: Thanks for following up. Can we agree that the Washington State Supreme Court did not say that Public Schools weren't holding to the constitutional rights? Can we agree the Court said the legislature was not fulfilling its constitutional duty. Also, what do you see as the outcome of the last two decades of reform. State-wide, test scores are up and the graduation rate, while not as good as we'd like, is at an all time high.


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