D.C. charter schools need a legal support organization

Please don’t get me wrong this morning. I am not seeking to disparage the fine work of established entities such as FOCUS, The DC Association of Chartered Public Schools, The Center for Education Reform, The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, or Charter Board Partners. But there is a key missing ingredient in the constellation of nonprofits that support school choice in the District of Columbia. We need a group of litigators.

I imagine a new center that will bring legal challenges in the name of educational freedom. Its mission would be similar to the libertarian Institute for Justice. From this organization’s website:

“The Institute for Justice combines cutting-edge litigation, sophisticated media relations, strategic research, boots-on-the-ground advocacy and much more to fight on behalf of those individuals who are denied their constitutional rights. Despite the challenge of taking on powerful government officials and entrenched precedents, IJ is successful in winning 70 percent of its cases in the court of law, in the court of public opinion or through legislative reforms.”

Since its creation in 1991, The Institute for Justice has been involved in more than 250 cases, including the argument of seven in front of the United States Supreme Court.

It is time to bring the power of something like an I.J. to the local charter movement in the nation’s capital. I imagine that this entity would join charters in fighting the myriad of issues now facing these public schools such as the availability of permanent facilities, equitable funding compared to DCPS, and legislation by the Mayor and Council that contradicts the School Reform Act. It would also rein in the charter board when it overreaches its authority. When union activity begins to percolate at our proud institutions such as Paul PCS, Cesar Chavez PCS, and Mundo Verde PCS, these schools would not be on their own. Let’s call it the DC Public Charter School Defense Initiative, which would jump into action, at no cost to those targeted by organized labor, to protect their autonomy.

In his tremendous book Voucher Wars author Clint Bolick describes his founding of I.J. with Chip Mellor, “It would be an explicitly libertarian law firm, with funding attracted by our commitment to a principled, long-term litigation strategy, rather than litigation following funding. . . And from the very first day, we vowed to defend every school choice program until the constitutional cloud was removed. We adopted a motto from the late-night television commercial: If you have a choice program, you have a lawyer!”

The same guiding principal would drive the work of DCPCSDI. If you have a charter school, then you have an attorney covering your back regarding the policy issues of the day. No longer would individual schools be an island trying to rid the educational landscape of wrongs. The battle would be joined by others experienced in using the courts to their advantage.

Who out there would be willing to take up this challenge?

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