Washington court rules charter schools in that state unconstitutional | Arkansas Blog

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Washington court rules charter schools in that state unconstitutional

Posted By on Sat, Sep 5, 2015 at 8:09 AM

click to enlarge WALTON MOUTHPIECE: Gary Newton, paid to lobby for the Walton interests, has led the fight for a charter middle school in Little Rock and tearing down the LRSD. He, too, likes to call schools like Quest that he organized a public school, though it's controlled by a private outfit based in Texas. - ARKANSAS TIMES
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  • WALTON MOUTHPIECE: Gary Newton, paid to lobby for the Walton interests, has led the fight for a charter middle school in Little Rock and tearing down the LRSD. He, too, likes to call schools like Quest that he organized a public school, though it's controlled by a private outfit based in Texas.
A huge court decision in the state of Washington: Its Supreme Court has ruled that charter schools there are unconstitutional.

In the ruling, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote that charter schools aren’t “common schools” because they’re governed by appointed rather than elected boards.

Therefore, “money that is dedicated to common schools is unconstitutionally diverted to charter schools,” Madsen wrote.

Justice Mary E. Fairhurst agreed with the majority that charter schools aren’t common schools, but argued in a partial dissenting opinion that the state “can constitutionally support charter schools through the general fund.”

The ruling means chaos in Washington, with a group of charter schools preparing to open.

It's impossible to say if any connection can be drawn legally between the Washington case and Arkansas, where Walton money is continuing to fuel a proliferation of charter schools. But the circumstances are similar. General fund money in Arkansas  is flowing to charter schools controlled by private organizations that are not governed by elected boards. And, while nominally known as public schools, they have proven fiendishly opaque from outside inspection on everything from staffing to contracting for buildings and services.

Diane Ravitch writes about how an advocacy group predicted this outcome in Washington two years ago.

The Arkansas legislature has, so far, resisted a step taken in Washington that contributed to the court ruling. Some tried here, but failed, to create a charter school regulatory commission apart from the state Board of Education, which nominally ensures the performance of all schools — true pubic schools and the privately operated, publicly subsidized charter schools. Such a bill, with a long roster of conservative Republican sponsors, failed in the Arkansas legislature in 2013.

But the Washington group's criticism also included a parallel to Arkansas — a draining of resources from conventional public schools and resulting inequities. The bigger drain is perhaps legal but real. It is in students from families — often advantaged in terms of income relative to the districts they leave — more involved in children's education. Their loss is incalculable on those left behind. Study after study shows the benefit to at-risk kids from being exposed to middle income kids.

Says Ravitch:

This ruling gives hope to parents all across America, who see charter schools draining funding from their public schools, favoring the privileges of the few over the rights of the many.

Sorry, hedge fund managers!

For the record, the Arkansas Constitution's declaration about public education:

Intelligence and virtue being the safeguards of liberty and the bulwark of a free and good government, the State shall ever maintain a general, suitable and efficient system of free public schools and shall adopt all suitable means to secure to the people the advantages and opportunities of education. The specific intention of this amendment is to authorize that in addition to existing constitutional or statutory provisions the General Assembly and/or public school districts may spend public funds for the education of persons over twenty-one (21) years of age and under six (6) years of age, as may be provided by law, and no other interpretation shall be given to it.

In Little Rock, a successful charter school operation is aiming to enroll 5,000 students — one of the largest school districts in Arkansas. Those students are worth more than $30 million in state money at today's rates, but their loss is much damaging in the creation of a remnant surrounding school district without Walton godfathers and an increasingly disadvantaged student body. Note: The Little Rock School District no longer has an elected governing board either. So there's that.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A photo originally appeared with this item of the Quest charter school bearing a sign thanking the Walton Foundation for contributing money to its opening. It was posted without a credit to source based on my belief that it was an Arkansas Times file photo, as i saw it identified on Google. Gary Newton, the Walton-paid lobbyist, said this weekend it was his photo and, indeed I discovered,  it was. We posted it with credit to Arkansas Learns, the Walton-financed lobby he heads, in its initial use. There was no objection to its use then with an item about Walton financial support for the school. He has now objected.  So have taken the photo down and apologize for failure to use the proper credit on this re-use.

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