A teachers union announced its intent to file suit Wednesday against the state over a bill that enables charter schools in West Virginia.
According to a news release from the West Virginia Education Association, the union sent a letter to the West Virginia attorney general of its intent to sue based on the argument that House Bill 206 violates the single-object rule of the state Constitution and other provisions.
“In our intent to sue notice we have listed what we believe are a number of constitutional violations,” WVEA president Dale Lee said in a statement. “Those include: the ‘single object’ provision of bills; the ‘thorough and efficient’ public education requirement; the establishing of new boards to govern charter schools; the lack of voter approval for a number of things associated with charter schools; and the ‘void of vagueness’ doctrine.”
State law requires submission of an intent to sue at least 30 days before a lawsuit is filed against the state or its subdivisions. The union’s letter of intent is dated July 9.
The omnibus legislative package is vast, but the union specified two alleged constitutional culprits within it — charter schools and the role of seniority in teacher layoffs.
The WVEA provided a copy of its letter to the Gazette-Mail that lays out its core arguments, on the condition the letter not be published before the attorney general receives it. The arguments include:
- Charters violate a constitutional mandate for a “thorough” public education by diverting funds away from traditional public schools;
- Charters violate a constitutional requirement for an “efficient” education by diverting public funds into schools that studies show “do no better, and in many case [sic] do worse” than public schools;
- Charters violate a constitutional requirement that gives the state Board of Education and superintendent supervisory powers over schools by creating rules governing public charter schools;
- Charters violate a constitutional provision that says voters must approve the creation of a new school district by allowing charters to draw their own attendance boundaries;
- That different code sections within the bill contradict one another regarding layoffs in teaching staff, violating the “void for vagueness” constitutional provision.
In a statement, Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, a principle architect and vociferous supporter of charter schools, said he was “extremely disheartened” by the WVEA’s action against a bill that provides “a multitude of resources” to the state’s education system.
“The WVEA is an organization that claims to represent the interests of teachers, yet it has now started a process that puts at risk millions of dollars directly to county school systems and a second consecutive year of 5-percent raises to teachers and service personnel,” he said. “It’s sad that the obsessive hysteria over the possibility of an elected county board of education authorizing a charter school — two years from now — is enough to completely overshadow the benefits of House Bill 206.”
The Senate’s original version of the legislation contained a “nonseverability” clause, meaning if a court voided any provision of the bill, it would kill the whole thing. However, subsequent versions of the legislation, HB 206 included, did not contain this provision.
Joe White, executive director of the West Virginia School Service Personnel Association union, said the SSPA had already been planning to move forward with its own plan of a separate lawsuit regarding the bill, possibly as soon as next week. However, he said the union is likely open to joining in with the WVEA.
He said the SSPA has been working with the state arm of the American Federation of Teachers union. Fred Albert, state AFT president, could not be reached for comment.
Gov. Jim Justice signed HB 206 into law last month. Along with charter schools and seniority provisions, it generally increases school funding, provides pay raises to teachers and school service personnel, allows students to attend public schools in counties they don’t live in if the receiving county’s board of education approves, and many others.