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Why A Washington State Supreme Court Has No Bearing on Connecticut Charter Schools

The tiny detail Sarah Darer Littman forgot while writing her latest tirade on charter schools for CT News Junkie?

Education policy is generally controlled by each individual state.

Littman argues that charter schools aren’t actually public schools, pointing to a recent Washington state Supreme Court ruling that defunds charter schools as proof.

Aside from the disturbing fact that Littman is lauding a decision that could force 1,300 children to lose their schools two months into the school year, her arguments make absolutely no sense.

Littman wants Connecticut lawmakers to define what makes a public school “public,” based on a narrow interpretation of another state’s constitution.

Congratulations, Ms. Littman! You win most absurd anti-reform argument of the year.

To give you a better idea of what I mean, let’s go over some of the facts of the case.

Earlier this month, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that because charter schools did not fit the definition of a “common school” as construed by Washington state law, they could not receive public funding.

That’s because Article IX, Section 2 of the Washington State’s Constitution specifically states that no funds  earmarked for “common schools” can be allocated to any other type of school.

It’s important to note that the majority based much of their ruling on No.20 v. Bryan, a Washington court case from 1909 that defined “common schools” as “under the control of the qualified voters of the school district.”

The 1909 case further defined the importance of local control, stating: “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.”

How Littman believes any of this applies to Connecticut is beyond me.

Since when does Washington state law apply to Connecticut residents?

Unlike the law that authorized charter schools in Washington state, Initiative Measure No. 1240, which defines charter schools as “common schools” as “part of the general and uniform system of public schools,” Connecticut’s charter school law defines charter schools simply as “public, nonsectarian” schools.”

In fact, nowhere in the Connecticut Constitution is there even a mention of “common school.” That’s probably because Connecticut doesn’t define its public school system on the same terms. If they did, New Haven Public Schools would not be able to have a system of partial mayoral control.

What makes this even worse is that Littman and her anti-reform buddies are congratulating themselves, praising the selective upholding of an antiqued law.

(I say selective because the court’s rationale that local control through school boards empowers voters to select qualified teachers and discharge incompetent ones is laughable.)

It’s not just me saying this either.

Former Washington State Supreme Court Justice Philip Talmadge believes the court’s rulings is a big mistake because the decision has the potential to affect other schools and programs, such as the Running Start, a program that allows Washington High School students take college courses but is not administered by a public school board.

“I disagree with the court’s majority opinion,” said Talmadge in his own editorial.

“It relies on an antiquated 1909 definition of public education and ignores recent, binding legal precedent that allows for flexibility in our public education system.”

 

 

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