By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
OLYMPIA — State schools chief Randy Dorn on Tuesday asked legislative leaders to amend the voter-approved charter school law so his office rather than an independent commission oversees the publicly funded, privately run schools.
In a letter to House and Senate leaders of both political parties, Dorn says the state constitution assigns responsibility for “all matters pertaining to public schools” to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
But Initiative 1240, which he opposed, establishes the Washington Charter School Commission and allows it to manage and enforce charter school contracts independent of his office.
“This structure is clearly unconstitutional, but can be easily repaired,” he wrote. “A simple amendment to make the Superintendent of Public Instruction the elected official responsible for the administration of education, responsible for state level administration of the new Charter Schools would create a structure consistent with the Constitution, and our current system of public school governance.
“The voters have decided in favor of creating a new system of public charter schools. By working together on some simple language changes to I-1240, we can honor that decision without violating our constitutional system of education governance,” he wrote.
For months, Dorn has talked of challenging the legality of the initiative in court. He met with an assistant attorney general in December who made it clear that office would defend the measure and if Dorn wanted to sue he’d have to do it on his own.
Dorn’s letter signals his desire to avoid a nasty legal fight. However, the change he seeks won’t be easy to accomplish. Under state law, an initiative can only be amended within two years of its passage by a two-thirds majority in the House and Senate, which is a tall order
If it doesn’t happen a lawsuit is still possible.
“He’s not ruling it out,” said OSPI spokeswoman Kristen Jaudon.
Meanwhile, the Washington Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, is pondering a legal challenge of the charter school law as well.
And while opponents are mulling their next step, the state Board of Education on Tuesday rolled out proposed rules for implementing the charter school law. The board plans to adopt the rules by March 6.
Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org.