Opponents of charter schools were unable to stop the proposal in the Legislature, so they are now going to court. The West Virginia Education Association teachers’ union announced plans to sue the State over the passage of HB 206, the omnibus education reform bill that includes a provision that allows for a limited number of charter schools.
The WVEA has not yet filed the suit, so the specifics of the complaint are not known yet. However, the organization has revealed in a news release several areas of the law that its lawyers plan to attack.
The WVEA will contend that because the legislation has many different provisions, it violates the state constitutional requirement that a bill address a “single object.” This will be an uphill fight for the union because of legal precedent.
The West Virginia Supreme Court ruled in the 1993 case Kincaid v. Mangum that “Grouping various matters in a legislative bill does not violate the State Constitution’s one object provision if there is reasonable basis for grouping.” Additionally, state Attorney General Patrick Morrisey issued an opinion earlier this year that a similar omnibus education bill (SB 451) met constitutional muster.
The “single object” requirement is designed to prevent “logrolling,” the practice of tucking a political favor or unrelated provision into a bill that’s expected to pass. That’s not what happened here. Every provision of HB 206 relates to education.
The WVEA hints it will argue that the law unconstitutionally creates new school boards to oversee charter schools. We’ll have to wait to see exactly how the union is going to make that case, since the law clearly states that only existing county boards of education can authorize and remove a charter.
West Virginia’s Constitution requires “The Legislature shall provide, by general law, for a thorough and efficient system of free schools.” The WVEA hints in their release that part of their attack will focus on that provision.
Again, it’s unclear precisely what the complaint will be here. Possibly it will argue that a charter school undermines that requirement by shifting money away from traditional public schools.
However, that provision of the state Constitution, as well as Section 12-12 which says, “The Legislature shall foster and encourage moral, intellectual, scientific and agriculture improvement” in education, clearly give broad powers to the state’s elected lawmakers when it comes to the state’s schools.
And finally, there is a separation of powers issue that will work against the union’s argument. The three branches serve a checks-and-balances function; However, they are also co-equal. Historically, courts are reluctant to overstep their authority by interfering with legislative decisions.
Having said all that, there’s always a chance the union will find a sympathetic judge who will see things their way. If that happens, you can expect an appeal to the state Supreme Court where more rational reasoning should prevail.