Connecticut legislators should be paying close attention to several interesting legal developments on the West Coast, which could have significant implications here in the Nutmeg State.
The first came Sept. 5, when the state Supreme Court in Washington ruled 6-3 that charter schools don’t qualify as “common” schools under the state’s constitution, and therefore can’t receive public funding intended for traditional public schools.
“Our inquiry is not concerned with the merits or demerits of charter schools,” Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote in the majority opinion. “Whether charter schools would enhance our state’s public school system or appropriately address perceived shortcomings of that system are issues for the legislature and the voters. The issue for this court is what are the requirements of the constitution.”
Charter schools have always tried to play the public/private issue both ways. The acts of calling themselves “public” when it comes to claiming funds from the public purse, yet immediately claiming to be private entities the minute accountability and FOIA matters are raised, have created several interesting conundrums, as we have observed right here in our own backyard. (See FUSE, ConnCAN)
In the Washington State case this play it both ways strategy finally went pear-shaped:
“The words ‘common school’ must measure up to every requirement of the constitution . . . and whenever by any subterfuge it is sought to qualify or enlarge their meaning beyond the intent and spirit of the constitution, the attempt must fail . . . Bryan established the rule that a common school, within the meaning of our constitution, is 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 the school district. The complete control of the schools is a most important feature, for it carries with it the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to select qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent.”
The court listed all the ways charters fail to meet these qualifications. Namely, they are:
1) “governed by a charter school board,” which is “appointed or selected . . . to manage and operate the charter school.”
2) The charter school board has the power to hire and discharge charter school employees and may contract with nonprofit organizations to manage the charter school.
3) They are “free from many regulations” that govern other schools.
4) Charter schools are “exempt from all school district policies,” as well as “all . . . state statutes and rules applicable to school districts” except those listed in I-1240 section 204(2) and those made applicable in the school’s charter contract.
In other words the Washington state court finally issued a ruling confirming what many of us here in Connecticut have been saying for years: charters are siphoning off taxpayer money from the public school system without sufficient (if any) accountability. Calling them “public schools” is merely convenient political fiction.
Friends and contributors of Dannel P. Malloy beware: your jig might soon be up.
Another ruling to watch out for is on the appeal of Vergara v. State of California.
Reflecting just how disastrous education policy has been under the Obama administration, Education Secretary Arne Duncan hailed the Vergara decision as a “mandate” toward a “collaborative process in California that is fair, thoughtful, practical and swift.” With Democrats like Arne, who needs Republicans?
Students Matter, the “nonprofit” behind the Vergara suit, was founded by Silicon Valley billionaire David Welch, and is supported by many of the same names familiar to us in Connecticut: Students First, Democrats for Education Reform, and the New Schools Venture Fund (whose board includes Connecticut Democrat contributor Jonathan Sackler, founder of ConnCAN and Trustee of the Achievement First Charter Management Organization.)
In July, Students Matter filed yet another lawsuit to compel all California districts to use test scores to evaluate teachers. This lawsuit was filed despite a lengthy warning from the American Statistical Association in April 2014 that said “VAMs typically measure correlation, not causation: Effects — positive or negative — attributed to a teacher may actually be caused by other factors that are not captured in the model” and further: “Ranking teachers by their VAM scores can have unintended consequences that reduce quality.”
After all, billionaires know everything better than experts, right? (Just ask Donald Trump!) In a post-Citizen’s United world, using one’s tax-free foundation for lobbying is just another way of doing business.
One can only hope that reason, justice, and a growing populist sentiment might prevail. Maybe, just maybe, we are still a nation of laws based on research and precedent.
In that hope, a series of Amicus briefs were filed in the Vergara case Sept. 16 as it moves to the appeal stage.
A brief filed by Education Deans, Professors and Scholarscites the American Statistical Association statement above, as well as a host of other studies.
The appeal also is supported by briefs from award-winning and distinguished teachers, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Korematsu Center for Law & Equality, the American Association of University Professors Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, the Education Law Center, the Equal Justice Society, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles, and trustees and board members of school districts as well as unions. It is a broad coalition of people who believe public education is fundamental to our democracy versus billionaire “philanthropists” who claim it’s “for the kids” but take money from the public purse while refusing proper accountability.
Sarah Darer Littman is an award-winning columnist and novelist of books for teens. A former securities analyst, she’s now an adjunct in the MFA program at WCSU, and enjoys helping young people discover the power of finding their voice as an instructor at the Writopia Lab.
DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.