Saturday, September 25, 2021

Wash. court declares charters unconstitutional


The Washington state Supreme Court took nearly a year to make a decision about charter schools but on Sept 4 declared in a 6-3 vote that the the way the state funds charter schools is unconstitutional, the Seattle Times reports.

US Speaker of the House John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, discusses HR.10 on May 7, 2014, in front of students from Richard Wright Public Charter School in Washington, D.C. He said the bill “would offer more of America’s students an opportunity for a good education.” (Caleb Smith via Flickr Creative Commons)

The creation of charter schools became a national issue more than 20 years ago. They were intended to innovate our school communities, with public schools learning lessons from things that worked well in charter schools. They have unfortunately been plagued with corruption, a drastic reduction in the quality of education provided for many students although some charter schools have performed well, and a complete narrowing of the curriculum to focus on grade-level classes in subjects that are considered part of the traditional academic core to the exclusion of honors classes and other subjects that kids like learning.

Charter schools aren’t “common” schools, the court ruled, at least not in the way state law defines a common school, because “common” schools, or traditional public schools, fall under the control of a board of education rather than a corporation. It’s therefore unconstitutional for the state to divert money away from the fund earmarked for public schools to the corporations that run charter schools. The public act that created charter schools that are privately run but publicly funded, narrowly approved by voters in 2012, has effectively been voided.

This case is a direct review of a King County Superior Court decision that found certain portions of Initiative 1240 (I-1240) (Charter School Act or Act), codified at chapter 28A.710 RCW, unconstitutional but left the remainder of the Act standing. We hold that the provisions of I-1240 that designate and treat charter schools as common schools violate article IX, section 2 of our state constitution and are void. This includes the Act’s funding provisions, which attempt to tap into and shift a portion of moneys allocated for common schools to the new charter schools authorized by the Act. Because the provisions designating and funding charter schools as common schools are integral to the Act, such void provisions are not severable, and that determination is dispositive of the present case.

The parties, most likely the charter schools that are now in existence, have 20 days to request a reconsideration before the ruling becomes final, but I’m not really sure what they can do. A handful of charter schools exist in the state and about 1,000 kids go to those schools, but the court declared money was sent to those schools in a way that violated the rights of the citizens of the state.

Chief Justice Barbara Madsen said the court determined charter schools didn’t qualify as “common” schools because they were run by an appointed, not an elected, board. Money “that is dedicated to common schools is unconstitutionally diverted to charter schools,” she wrote in the majority opinion. A concurring justice, Mary E Fairhurst, agreed with the majority that charter schools aren’t common schools but said the state “can constitutionally support charter schools through the general fund.”

That may be what they have to do. Don’t hold your breath that charter schools in Washington will change their way of operating to fit the definition of “common” school. Look instead for the state to figure out a way to get money to these schools—I mean, to these corporations—when the legislature convenes in a few months.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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