- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2006

D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson is poised today to introduce legislation that calls for changing the D.C. Home Rule Charter. Called the D.C. Eduation Rights Charter Amendment Act, the measure is being billed as guaranteed access to “a system of free high quality public schools to every child.” Many appreciate the concept behind the amendment. But we suspect the change, if approved by the elections board and voters, will open up a series of litigious doors to various special-interest groups.

Similar to constitutional provisions enacted in dozens of states, the D.C. amendment says: “The fundamental right to educational opportunities is a basic value of our society and serves as a foundation of our democratic system of government. Accordingly, the District of Columbia is hereby obligated to provide a system of high-quality public schools to every child.” Iowa and Alabama are the only states that have no such constitutional measures.

A number of issues spawned interest in the District. For one, two of the endorsers, Parents United for D.C. Public Schools and the Washington Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, played instrumental roles in an onerous and costly fire-code lawsuit that tied the District’s hands for years and, before being settled, led to chaotic court-ordered school closings. Another issue is the school-choice movement, which helped tens of thousands of parents remove their children from violent and underachieving schools and enroll them instead in public scharter schools or use vouchers to enroll them in private schools. Other factors include ongoing plans to close and consolidate schools and legislative efforts to provide a steady stream of billions of dollars to modernize the inventory of D.C. Public Schools. And, be sure, the proposal doesn’t mandate educating the public; it mandates a public education.

Mayor Tony Williams is seemingly on the same page as we are, reportedly saying that guaranteeing such educational rights by way of a charter amendment will likely open the “floodgates” to lawsuits. In fact, that is the precise effect following the implementation of federal and local laws as they pertain to special education.

The D.C. Board of Education already has passed a favorable resolution on the amendment. Numerous legal and rights advocates have signed on as endorsers, including such liberals as Marian Wright Edelman and her husband, Peter, and the president of the Washington Teachers Union. The list of endorsers from prestigious law firms and law schools is unending. Indeed, the partial list of endorsers is a clear but ominous sign that the D.C. Education Rights Charter Amendment Act will likely mean bad news for children — the very people its endorsers propose to aid.

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