Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Washington's Latest Charter School Lawsuit Filed

The Associated Press is reporting that a lawsuit has been filed in King County Superior court over the new charter school law passed by the Legislature in the spring.
Teachers unions, parents and other groups filed a lawsuit Wednesday over Washington’s new charter school law, a measure that was enacted last spring after the state Supreme Court struck down the old law. 
The group includes the Washington Education Association, League of Women Voters, El Centro de la Raza and several labor unions.

The lawsuit contends that the the Legislature did an end run around the previous ruling by finding new public dollars for charter school support instead of the money coming from the General Fund.
In what can only be termed late-to-the-party, Senator Joe Fain, R-Auburn, who could not fall over himself more to support charter school legislation, had this to say:
“The union is right about one thing,” Fain said. “The state has an unmet duty to a million kids that are in both traditional and charter public schools. A solution to McCleary will provide better equality and opportunity to students no matter what kind of public school they attend.” 
Where was his voice during the legislative session?  Where was the voice of a single charter school on McCleary?

He also said this:
“There is nothing in the law, the Constitution or the previous court ruling that shows that this law is invalid,” he said.  
Really? Senator, go read your constitution and see Article 3, Section 22 on the role of the state superintendent of public instruction and then see if your law has anything about that role in it.  I'll wait.

The response from the Washington State Charter Schools Association is telling:
Together with our partners in education advocacy, including The League of Education Voters, Stand for Children, and Democrats for Education Reform, we condemn this suit as nothing more than an intimidation tactic designed to preserve a broken status quo and scare our teachers, families and students. Our state’s new charter public school law is the product of the Legislature’s bipartisan effort to save our state’s charter public schools – schools designed to address equity and opportunity gaps for students of color and from low-income backgrounds whose families are seeking better public education options. We are confident that the bipartisan law passed by the Legislature meets the constitutional threshold laid out by the courts. We are disappointed that any organization would be interested in blindly closing public school doors on students who are finally thriving.
Our focus remains on ensuring that charter public schools continue to deliver excellent education and close persistent equity and opportunity gaps, not on playing games with special interest groups that seem determined to defend a system that we know is not working for too many of our promising youth. We are confident that Washington State now has one of the strongest charter public school laws in the country, and we are as determined as ever to keep fighting for Washington’s families and the high-quality public school options they deserve.

WA Charters intends to file a motion to intervene in the case. Following a successful first year serving students, Washington's charter public schools are expanding and adding grade levels and are a vital part of Washington's public education system. School starts the week of August 15th.
First, this is really the first public notice of the alignment of those ed reform groups with the WSCSA.
Second, I have another thread coming up on how DFER is losing power and how concerned they are about having Hillary Clinton on-board with their agenda.

Third, it's a little unseemly to say that the League of Women Voters and El Centro de la Raza are trying to "intimidate" or "scare" anyone.  But the narrative during the legislative session was very much about charters being bullied so I'm not surprised.

But on the point of communities of color, I have another thread coming on the resolution put forward at the national NAACP convention against charter schools.  It would seem that many communities of color are starting to see how they are being targeted by charter schools and are now starting to fight back.

Fourth, "one of the strongest charter public school laws in the country?"  What an echo from the last law of which the same was said by charter supporters.  They may be "strong" laws but they are not constitutional ones.

File away, WSCSA.  I'll just note that "Washington's charter public schools are expanding" is not exactly a true statement given that all the ones scheduled to open this fall have asked for an planning year. 

What I was really pleased to learn is that the lawsuit also points out the very disjointed manner in which the students in the charter schools received their education.  The lawsuit contends that the Alternative Learning Experiences (ALEs) that were created for the charter school students did not follow state law.  I will be pleased to add to that narrative with the information that other public advocates and I have collected about what OSPI, Superintendent Randy Dorn, Mary Walker School District and its superintendent, Kevin Jacka, did in creating those ALEs.

Also of interest is the last Charter Commission meeting.  Well, the July meeting had been cancelled but then I received notice that there was to be a special meeting by phone.  The agenda had one item.

It seems that Excel Charter School lost its executive director/founder, Adel Sefrioui.   The subtext I read from this is that they were struggling with their operations because the CC was reviewing a "third party ESP (Education Service Provider) contract between Excel and Green Dot."   It appears that Excel wants Green Dot to provide services for them next year.  It was determined by the CC's legal counsel that a contract had to be made between the two groups and approved by the CC.

It will cover items like:
- professional development for staff
- providing support to Excel for state contract
- budget and administrative support
- HR and recruitment
- outreach
- and what I call "charter cheerleading"

Oddly, Green Dot would not charging for these services.  They claim it comes down to Green Dot wanting Excel to be "successful" and "the landscape has shifted and Excel has challenges."  I'm not sure if that landscape shift is just the director leaving or the unsteady legal ground that the charter law is on.

The Commission in reviewing this action is not endorsing it but making sure things are done legally per the contract with each charter.

It was reported that Excel had met its enrollment targets for the fall and that the school is "viable."

But the Commission felt that they could not approve the action if the contract was not on solid ground in its current version.  So it was tabled.  I need to follow-up and see the state of this proposal.

Clearly, all is not well in charter school land.

Update: Someone asked me about what seems to be an early start date that newspapers are reporting for charters.  I checked and last year the range of start date was from August 18-August 30th.  I can't really ascertain what it is for all of them this year because astonishingly, I can only find two schools that have their start date for school year 2016-2017 on their website.

I also note that except for two schools - Summit and Soar - they all have their legally required notice of litigation.  Some have one terse sentence about the newest lawsuit and others have a lengthy notice that I suspect was written by the Washington State Charter School Association saying the new law is constitutionally sound.

None of the notices give any warning about what might happen if the law is, once again, overturned.  Given the schools know from experience what could happen, that's pretty disappointing.

Reading thru Spokane Academy, I'm very impressed.  Sounds like one of the better charter schools and they use the Cambridge International Examinations qualifications and curriculum.

end of update


Charlie Mas said...

Once your law is found unconstitutional it is not credible to claim that those who brought the litigation are "special interests". Defending the constitution is not a special interest. Seeking to subvert it, however, is.

Anonymous said...

SECTION 22 SUPERINTENDENT OF PUBLIC INSTRUCTION, DUTIES AND SALARY. The superintendent of public instruction shall have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools, and shall perform such specific duties as may be prescribed by law. He shall receive an annual salary of twenty-five hundred dollars, which may be increased by law, but shall never exceed four thousand dollars per annum.


Melissa Westbrook said...

".. shall have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools.."

Not in the law and that should be enough to overturn it but I believe the plaintiffs have far more.

I am baffled that the writers of this law didn't try harder to put something in to address this. I'm not surprised there had been a bill to get rid of the state superintendent (it went nowhere.)