Does Washington state’s ruling on charter schools apply to Kentucky?

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Ky Constitution

Students nationwide hear all of the time about the beauty of the U.S. Constitution. But, when it was ratified in 1788, the U.S. Constitution contained considerable flaws: counting the enslaved as three-fifths of a person; no guarantee of freedom of the press, assembly, religion, or expression; no limits on forcing citizens to testify against themselves, and no inclusion of non-white or female persons.

In contrast, I suggest you look at state constitutions, especially Washington state’s and Kentucky’s. As with many state constitutions, both of these documents provide their citizens with considerably more rights than does the federal constitution—especially when it comes to schools.

In 2012, Washington state voters narrowly approved Initiative 1240, establishing charter schools in the state. Soon after, a coalition was formed that included the Washington Education Association, League of Women Voters of Washington, El Centro de la Raza, and other organizations. The coalition sued, arguing that charter schools were not “common schools” and stole money from public schools, which were the “common schools.”

In 2015, based on Washington state’s constitution, the state Supreme Court struck down charter schools as unconstitutional. Writing for the 6–3 majority, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote that charter schools do not qualify as “common schools,” since their boards of governance are appointed rather than elected. Any “money that is dedicated to common schools is unconstitutionally diverted to charter schools,” she wrote.

“The Supreme Court has affirmed what we’ve said all along: charter schools steal money from our existing classrooms, and voters have no say in how these charter schools spend taxpayer funding,” Kim Mead, president of the Washington Education Association, told The Seattle Times in the wake of the state Supreme Court decision.

The Kentucky constitution and common schools

Which brings us to the Kentucky constitution. Section 183 reads: “The General Assembly shall, by appropriate legislation, provide for an efficient system of common schools throughout the State.” The section has never been amended since it was included in the 1891 constitution.

The following section, Section 184, is even more interesting: “No sum shall be raised or collected for education other than in common schools until the question of taxation is submitted to the legal voters, and the majority of the votes cast at said election shall be in favor of such taxation.”

The Washington state Supreme Court said that charter school were not part of the “common school” system. Would this also be true in Kentucky?

And, do you remember voting for your tax money to go to charter schools? I don’t remember seeing that on a ballot, ever. So I’m pretty sure the voters of Kentucky have not approved having their taxes go for charters.

Kentucky, I think we have a court case.

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Ivonne Rovira
Ivonne Rovira, a teacher and an activist, is the research director for the statewide organization Save Our Schools Kentucky. Ivonne previously worked for The Miami Herald, the now defunct (and greatly lamented) Miami News and The Associated Press. All three of her children are proud products of Jefferson County Public Schools.

1 COMMENT

  1. I believe you are correct, Ms. Rovira. Charter Schools should be privately funded. Bevin will be upset. What a shame!

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