A battle for control of charter schools has provoked an unhealthy civil war of sorts, with the Utah School Boards Association firing a legal salvo at the Utah State Board of Education. Third District Judge William Thorne should dismiss the lawsuit as groundless, as requested by the defendant.
Aren't there enough education foes to fight without picking on each other?Specialized charter schools are funded with public money but have greater autonomy than traditional schools. This year's Legislature approved a pilot program, allocating $500,000 for eight charter institutions and granting control to the Utah State Board of Education. Two were selected to open in the fall of 1999 - Tuacahn High School for the Performing Arts in Ivins; and the Jean Massieu School, which focuses on American sign language and hopes to operate within the Jordan School District.
It was logical for the state to oversee and monitor the early stages of this program, due to its experimental nature and the widespread geographic disbursement of these and future charter schools. Unfortunately, the USBA didn't see it that way and cried foul, claiming only local school boards had that right and that the state did not.
The constitutional interpretation in reaching that conclusion was a reach, and there is not unanimous district backing of the lawsuit. Education is best conducted at the local level, but there are occasional exceptions. This is one of them. The motion for dismissal rightfully noted that the legal action is constitutionally unsound and does not reflect the views of the USBA's 40 members. At least three districts - including Granite, the state's largest - have asked to be removed from the complaint.
What is most disturbing is the apparent "sour-grapes" nature of the action, which reinforces the notion that sometimes the educational establishment is more concerned with protecting turf and the status quo than with improving its product. Charter schools are an experimental effort that should be unitedly championed and not challenged. A lawsuit over their control at this early stage has no merit and should be promptly expelled.