On Tuesday, October 6th, the StarTribune printed the Letter to the Editor the I wrote regarding the Sept. 30th Commentary that Marshall Tanick wrote “Are charter schools Unconstitutional?”
Minnesota and Washington state laws are like apples vs. oranges
In his Sept. 30 commentary (“Are charter schools unconstitutional?”), Marshall Tanick asserts that the Washington state Supreme Court decision that ruled that state’s charter school law unconstitutional could shake education in Minnesota, too.
The problem with that assertion is that Washington’s and Minnesota’s constitutions are significantly different in terms of their specificity regarding education.
Washington’s Constitution has a very specific, particular and prescriptive definition of the term “common school.” The constitutional question was: Do charter schools meet the constitutional definition? Minnesota’s Constitution, on the other hand, does not even use the term “common schools.” In Minnesota, defining schools is a legislative matter, not one that is constitutionally prescribed.
Washington’s Constitution also has a specific provision that all revenue for common schools, no matter its source, must be used exclusively for common schools. Over the last 100 years, that court has ruled that common school funding cannot be used for vocational rehabilitation, nor public improvements, nor interest on public school buildings, nor schools attached to teacher training colleges.
Minnesota’s Constitution does not prescribe these matters. Those decisions are left to the Legislature. Unlike Washington’s, Minnesota’s Constitution gives the Legislature the power to define the types of schools that exist, how schools are funded and how schools can spend their funds.
So the assertion that Washington’s charter school decision could shake education in Minnesota is questionable, if not unlikely, unless Minnesota were to amend its Constitution in a manner that is as prescriptive, detailed and particular as Washington’s.
Eugene Piccolo, St. Paul
The writer is executive director of the Minnesota Association of Charter Schools.