Randy Dorn Explains Why He's Likely to Sue Over Charter School Law

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If charter schools have a roadblock to starting up locally, it's State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn. After voters narrowly approved a charter school initiative, Dorn announced that he was likely to sue over the measure's provision that would establish a commission that would oversee the new schools. His beef: The initiative puts the commission in the governor's office rather than his.

*See Also: The Charter School Poison Pill

Is this merely a power grab by Dorn?

Speaking with Seattle Weekly, he insists not. Nor he says is he just trying to stop charter schools, which he has supported in the past.

Rather, Dorn says he's merely trying to uphold the state constitution, which puts his office in charge of public schools. What most people didn't realize when they voted for Initiative 1240, he maintains, is that the the charter school commission would not only bypass his office, it would create a whole new and "separate school system" devoted just to this one type of public education.

This would lead to "chaos," he continues, because "there would be confusion" over who was responsible for what.

Maybe, or maybe not. The focus of the charter school commission seems pretty clear: charter schools.

But Dorn does raise some interesting side points. This new commission, he says, is estimated to cost $3 million a year in staffing and related costs. This to oversee just eight new schools a year (at most) for the next 5 years. In contrast, Dorn's office spends roughly $8 million annually to oversee "core functions" (not including specialized services) of approximately 2,200 schools.

So there's a potential waste of taxpayer money at issue, as 1240 opponents said all along.

Secondly, Dorn points out his is an elected office, and local school board members are elected too. The nine members of the new charter-school commission, however, are to be appointed, three of them by the governor, three by the president of the state senate and three by the speaker of the state house of representatives.

So you could argue that charter-school system will be less democratic, although there is a way of getting around this. The initiative empowers local school boards, as well as the commission, to authorize and monitor charter schools. The Washington State Schools Directors' Association is, in fact taking the "position that charter schools should only be authorized under locally elected school boards," according to a release sent out by the association.

Dorn says he's not likely to file suit until after election results are certified on Dec. 6. He also has a meeting with the state attorney general's office next week to talk over legalities.

If he does file suit--and win--he envisions a couple of outcomes. The commission could simply move into his office. Or the court might just strike down the entire law.

Update: The pro-charter school group Stand for Children points out that the OFM has estimated the charter school commission to cost $3 million over five years, not annually. Still, compared to Dorn's office, that's a lot of money for administering 40 schools.

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