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Why Initiative 1240 is Unconstitutional

The Initiative to set up charter schools circumvents our State Constitution because it would set up an alternative state schools system not under the supervision of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.   Randy Dorn, Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction July 2012

As Initiative 1240 is literally loaded with false statements intended to deceive the voters, we will briefly review a few of them first before going into the constitutional violations. First, the ballot title itself deceives the voters by claiming that charter schools are public schools. The only thing public about charter schools is that they rob real public schools of the public funds they need to operate. In fact, charter schools are nearly always run by private, for-profit corporations – even if the initial charter board is a non-profit, they nearly always farm out operation of charter schools to private for profit corporations. Thus, charter school are little more than private school robbing money from public schools.

Second, the initiative claims that charter schools will help students. In fact, study after study has shown that charter schools are twice as likely to harm students as they are to help them. There is no study which has ever found charter schools to do better than public schools.

Third, the initiative claims that charter schools save money and are “more efficient” than regular public schools. In fact, charter schools are much LESS efficient than our public schools. In particular, the administrative costs of charter schools are often ten times as high as in regular public schools – largely to create profit for Wall Street corporations – and also to pay the huge salaries of charter school administrators. It is not uncommon for a charter school manager to be paid $500,000 or more! Some charter schools do save money. They do so by hiring fake teachers with as little as 5 weeks of actual training and then paying them starvation wages. Most of these fake teachers last less than one year before they resign – leaving the children with a “lost” year of school which can never be made up.

Fourth, charter schools are NOT open to all students because they do not have bus services. Therefore they will only be open to children whose parents have cars and are free on weekday mornings and afternoons to drop them off and pick them up. This is ironic because Initiative 1240 requires that school district public transportation funds be handed over to charter schools without any requirement that charter schools provide transportation for their students! Think of it as public money to maximize corporate profits.

Fifth, the initiative claims charter schools will perform better because they can ignore public laws. This is like saying our highways will perform better if we allow some drivers to ignore the speed limit. These laws being ignored by charter schools include transparent oversight, accountability and decision making by a publicly elected school board. Again, charter schools do not do better than public schools. Below we will explain why charter schools created by an initiative are not allowed to simply ignore the structure of our public school system as is clearly spelled by our State Constitution. In fact, no Initiative can ignore or over-ride our State Constitution. The only thing which can change our State Constitution is a Constitutional amendment.

Checks and Balances of the current Public School System
Important protections of our existing public school system include the fact that those who oversee the spending of public funds, including local school board directors and the Superintendent of Public Instruction are elected directly by the voters. If the voters do not like how our public funds are being spent, we can boot all of them out of office. As is shown by the chart on the next page, our State Constitution requires oversight of public funds by a publicly elected school board and a publicly elected superintendent of public instruction.
Washington Public School System established by our State Constitution 

No Public Accountability of the Charter School System
Initiative 1240 would set up a complex additional bureaucracy in State government to supervise charter schools. Instead of the Superintendent of Public Instruction supervising charter schools, as required by our State Constitution, there would be a charter school commission supervising and delegating authority to a host of other groups ranging from charter school authorizers and private for-profit corporate contractors to charter school managers and unelected “school boards” which are exempted from nearly all State laws. None of these corporate front people who oversee charter schools would be subject to direct election or recall by the public. Below is a diagram of how Initiative 1240 would work:


 Turning our State Constitution Upside Down
Note that the Superintendent of Public Instruction would have no supervisory role under Initiative 1240. Instead, the only role OSPI would play is diverting public funds away from the public schools to the privately run for-profit charter schools. Instead of the legislature funding schools and the Superintendent supervising schools, the Superintendent would be responsible for funding charter schools by taking the money away from public schools and supervision of charter schools would be delegated to a whole host of different groups. Not only does OSPI play no role in supervising charter schools, but also the legislature plays no role! The legislature does not even have a funding role as the money is simply diverted from normal school funding. In fact, because charter schools are exempt from most State laws, there is no public control or accountability over charter schools from any branch of government. This is why Randy Dorn said that there was no doubt in his mind that Initiative 1240 is unconstitutional.
Follow the Money
Initiative 1240 illegally replaces the structure in our State Constitution with a State Charter School Commission which authorizes a complex charter school organization which is then free to hire a for-profit corporation to actually run the charter school. The money to run the charter school is deducted from the public school district in which the charter school is located. The complex structure of charter school authorizers and private for-profit contractors means that charter school managers have no real accountability to anyone.

Other Violations of our State Constitution
In addition to violating Article 3, Section 22 of our State Constitution – by setting up a school system which would not be supervised by the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Initiative 1240 also violates Article 9 section 2 by setting up a system of schools which are not uniform – in fact, charters would be the exact opposite of uniform. Initiative 1240 also violates Article 9 Section 2 by setting up a series of schools that are not public common schools or public high schools. Instead, charter schools are merely PRIVATE FOR PROFIT CORPORATE RUN schools being paid for with public tax payer dollars. 

A more Democratic and Constitutional Process for School Innovation
Even those who favor charter schools should vote against Initiative 1240 because it is a very flawed structure which is undemocratic and ripe for corporate corruption. A far safer and more constitutional structure would be to place charter schools under the direct control of a publicly elected local school board which is under the supervision of OSPI. Charter schools should also be required to obey all of the laws required of regular public schools so that every child is protected from corporate exploitation.

 Because we are a local control State, such schools already exist in nearly every school district. They are called innovative schools. There are literally hundreds of innovative public schools throughout Washington State. They all share four important characteristics:

First, they have been approved by a publicly elected local school board. If parents do not like how these innovative schools perform, they can simply run for the school board and boot out the existing school board. Even easier, they can go to a monthly meeting of their local school board and tell them what they think is wrong and how it should be changed. 

Second, real public schools are under the supervision of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. If the voters, parents, and/or taxpayers are unhappy with the schools, they can also boot out the Superintendent of Public Instruction. 

Third, all real public schools comply with existing laws which protect the rights of students to a good education. If the voters are unhappy with their laws, they can boot out their existing legislators and put in new ones. If they are unhappy with our existing State Constitution, they can try to pass a Constitutional amendment. 

Fourth, real schools must employ and pay qualified certified teachers. This means teachers with at least five years of higher educational training. 

It short, there is a clear line of command with existing public schools. Every public schools has qualified teachers and principals to address the concerns of parents. Every school district has a Superintendent and a school board which hold regular public meetings to address the concerns of parents. And if all else fails, every resident of Washington State can go to their elected Representatives, Senators, Governor and the Superintendent of Public Instruction with their concerns. All of these officials are responsive to the public because all of them are elected directly by the public.

By sharp contrast, the line of command with charter schools is vague and unclear. There is no requirement for a qualified teacher. Nor is there a requirement for any principal. The superintendent and even the authorizing agent may work for a for-profit corporation located in some other State. It is even unclear whether the top level of command is the Charter School Commission or the State Board of Education. Finally, it is unclear what laws are or are not covered as the entire “contract” is open to corruption.


Given all of the above, it is no wonder that charter schools routinely fail children even as they rack up massive profits for their corporate backers. Other States have experienced one disaster and scandal after another by attempts to privatize their public schools. We should avoid inflicting this severe harm on the children of Washington State. 

Please share this information with your friends and neighbors, urge them to vote no on Initiative 1240 – and join our coalition to oppose Initiative 1240 by visiting our website: Washingtonparentsforpublicschools.org 

The battle to protect our public schools will not end with this initiative. Even if this thing is defeated at the ballot box or by our courts, there will be more attacks on our public schools down the road. Now is the time to organize in order to protect the future of our State’s one million school children. 

David Spring M. Ed.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  

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