Wednesday, November 30, 2005

A Wonk's Guide to the Charter School Lawsuit

I'd love roll out a concise, easily digestible post on the issues at play in the lawsuit over charter schools. But I can't. The Plaintiffs' Brief argues five -- or maybe six -- propositions of law over 58 pages. Try summarizing that. Even the case name --State Ex Rel. Ohio Congress of Parents & Teachers v. State Bd. of Education, Case no. 2004-1668, 10th District Court of Appeals (Franklin County) -- is an abomination.

Instead, a few thumbnail guides and a pile of links to get you going.

First, the posture of the case. The appeal is from the trial court's grant of summary judgement. This means that the parties did their discovery and presented what they had to the judge who decided that, even if he assumed all disputed facts in favor of the plaintiffs, they still lose.

Now as you read the newspaper accounts, you will see arguments over whether charter schools are effectively educating kids. This is a dispute of material fact and has to be assumed in favor of the plaintiffs for summary judgement. You will also see -- as the central element of the dispute -- arguments over whether charter schools are "public" schools. This is a dispute of law, and the very thing that courts of appeals are charged with resolving. The parties also dispute whether, for example, local tax dollars are going to charter schools. Under the circumstances, this is a mixed issue of fact and law. Mixed issues of fact and law are among the things that turn young eager law students into old bitter law students before their time.

The basic issue is whether the current system of public education with its current charter school appendix constitutes a "thorough and efficient system of common schools throughout the state," as guaranteed by the State Constitution. Yes, this is the same clause at issue in DeRolph. (And yes, I'll get back to DeRolph II and beyond one of these days.) There are some side issues about local control of tax revenues, but don't hurt yourself.

All that said, here are your links. Of the newpaper accounts, the BJ's is the best, thanks to Oplinger and Willard's deep background knowledge. The Columbus Dispatch ($$$) and Cincinnati Enquirer articles are about equal and have about the same info. The Blade article is the weakest on the substance of the case, instead playing up the Culture of Corruption® angle. Cleveland Scene dishes that dirt better -- most of the Supreme Court has taken substantial contributions from charter schools capo di tutti capo David Brennan.

Not done yet? The Supreme Court website has a rundown of the issues in the case. The Ohio Federation of Teachers does the same, from their perspective. If you are truly a glutton for punishment, here is the plaintiffs' brief. Other case materials are posted somewhere on the web, but I've misplaced the link.

I will post on the opinion when it comes out. In the meantime, question, comments, civilized disagreements are always welcome in Comments.