It looks like within a year or two, we should finally have an answer to the question, Does the Constitution of Washington State allow for charter schools?
That’s because the Washington State Supreme Court says it has agreed to take up a legal challenge to Initiative 1240, the charter schools measure narrowly approved by Washington voters in November of 2012.
The challenge is being brought by a coalition that includes parents, school administrations, community activists, teachers, and the League of Women Voters of Washington. They’re ably represented by Paul Lawrence of Pacifica Law Group, the attorney who successfully argued League of Education Voters v. State. (In LEV, the Court struck down the two-thirds for revenue requirement at the heart of Tim Eyman’s three I‑601 clones, as well as I‑601 itself).
Oral arguments have been scheduled for October 28th and will be shown on TVW. Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office will be defending I‑1240, as required by law.
In an interesting twist, the plaintiffs and the state will be arguing over whether charter schools fall under the definition of public schools, as opposed to whether public money can be used to operate schools outside of the purview of a school district, which was the focus of arguments at the Superior Court level.
King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel partially invalidated I‑1240 in a ruling last year, but left it largely intact, allowing implementation to go forward. Seems the Supreme Court has agreed to look at the initiative under a different lens. Usually appellate courts only consider issues raised at the trial court level.
The plaintiffs in the suit are looking for a decision that results in a determination that I‑1240 doesn’t pass constitutional muster, which would prevent any more charter schools from opening and cut off any that have from public funds. That would be the best possible outcome. We at NPI strongly support this lawsuit and will be following the case throughout the next few months and beyond.
There are several provisions of the Constitution that refer to the management and funding of the state’s public schools, which include common schools. Among them are Article II, Section 28 and several provisions of Article IX.
Article IX, Section 2 states:
SECTION 2 PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM. The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.
Because charter schools are operated by private institutions and not subject to the authority of a school district, they arguably cannot be considered part of the “general and uniform system of public schools” the Constitution requires.
Prior to the approval of I‑1240 in 2012, Washington State voters had rejected charter school ballot measures by large margins. I‑1240 was propelled by a slick, extremely well-funded advertising campaign, while the opposition did not receive the energy and resources of past campaigns opposed to charter schools.
If I‑1240 is struck down, it would set an important precedent that would protect Washington’s public schools from future attempts to siphon their funding. That would be a big win for Washington’s youth, their parents, and teachers.