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Legal challenges ahead for charter schools?

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Gabriel Spitzer

Now that charter school backers have declared victory, opponents are readying possible legal challenges to the new law established by Initiative 1240.

State superintendent Randy Dorn has been warning for some time that he doesn’t believe the charter school law would be constitutional. Dorn’s office is charged with overseeing public schools in Washington, while the new charter schools would largely skirt his authority.

“You’re creating a new school system, public schools, and it’s overseen by a new agency under the governor’s office. I think that’s circumventing the constitution,” Dorn said.

Dorn says he’s weighing a court challenge and has an inquiry about it in to the state attorney general’s office. He said he might have held off had the initiative passed by a large margin, but given its narrow 51-49 approval, Dorn says he’s inclined to take it to court.

Common schools?

I-1240 might have other constitutional problems as well. University of Washington Law Professor Hugh Spitzer says the law only allows the state to spend money on so-called “common schools,” defined as schools controlled by taxpayers through local school boards. The initiative makes clear the charter schools are indeed common schools, but Spitzer says just saying that doesn’t make it so.

“’Common schools’ is a precise technical definition. The drafters of the initiative have tried to accommodate this case. In my view, they have not been successful in that attempt,” Spitzer said.

The initiative’s backers say the measure has been vetted by constitutional lawyers, and they’re confident it will pass muster.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.
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