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.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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