Last Friday, the Washington Supreme Court issued a shocking decision that hurts our most vulnerable students and dashes the hopes of families across the state whose children have just started in brand new public charter schools.
On the eve of a holiday weekend, almost a year after oral arguments and after eight new public charter schools had just welcomed 1,200 excited students and their families, the Washington Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the voter-approved charter school law is unconstitutional in its entirety.
The court ruled that because public charter schools are “run by an appointed board or nonprofit organization and thus not subject to voter control, they cannot qualify as ‘common schools’” within the meaning of our state constitution. And the court erroneously concluded that since the charter schools intended to rely on common school funding, the whole act must fail.
Our charter schools are in fact expressly funded without using constitutionally restricted funds. The court also appears to be putting Tribal Compact Schools and Running Start on the list of educational options that expressly cannot be funded. Both programs rely on state education dollars, and neither is governed by locally elected school boards.
The court relies on a 1909 case that established the rule that:
a common school, within the meaning of our constitution, is one that is common to all children of proper age and capacity, free, and subject to and under the qualified voters of the district. The complete control of the schools is a most important feature, for it carries with it the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to select qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent.
Seriously? As if voters are in the business of discharging incompetent teachers. Please find me a voter that feels particularly informed, much less empowered or in control, when districts and teachers are bargaining over their contracts. I’ll wait.
It‘s unfortunate to hear people cheering this court ruling. Many of these are the same people who fought mightily against the school closures in Seattle in years past, and now their attitude towards parents and students facing the possibility of losing their chosen public school appears to be “too bad for you.” I am heartsick for the students and their families and their teachers, and I might as well admit that my faith in the judiciary is shaken.
This ruling has unclear and confusing ramifications for families, but it does not end here. Chief Justice Madsen wrote, “Whether charter schools would enhance our state’s public school system or appropriately address perceived shortcomings of that system are issues for the legislature and the voters.”
We agree, and we already know the voters agree. We will be working tirelessly to make sure that the will of the voters is upheld, and charter schools—however “uncommon”—continue to provide an excellent public education to the students of Washington.