Charter Schools Ruled Unconstitutional in WA

     OLYMPIA, Wash. (CN) – Washington state’s highest court ruled late Friday that publicly funding private charter schools is unconstitutional, overturning a citizens’ initiative authorizing it.
     In a 6-3 decision, the court found public funding for the schools illegal. Voters approved I-1240 in 2012; nine charter schools were set to open this school year.
     “The portions of l-1240 designating charter schools as common schools violate article IX, section 2 of the Washington Constitution and are invalid. For the same reason, the portions of l-1240 providing access to restricted common-school funding are also invalid. These provisions are not severable and render the entire act unconstitutional,” Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote for the majority.
     The League of Women Voters and a coalition including the state teachers union and school administrators sued the state in 2013 for “improperly diverting public-school funds to private organizations that are not subject to local voter control.”
     The Charter School Act authorized up to 40 schools within five years. The schools are free for students, but exempt from many state rules. They are not governed by an elected school board, but by a charter school board, and receive funding on the same basis as public school districts.
     Madsen said the decision is not about the merits of charter schools.
     “Our inquiry is not concerned with the merits or demerits of charter schools. 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. The issue for this court is what are the requirements of the constitution,” Madsen wrote.
     In December 2014, King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel upheld the law, but found it unconstitutional to designate a charter school a “common school.” Rietschel said charter schools could be ineligible for certain limited funding sources reserved exclusively for common schools.
      Kim Mead, president of the Washington Education Association, said in a statement that public school educators were “applauding” the decision.
     “The Supreme Court has affirmed what we’ve said all along – charter schools steal money from our existing classrooms, and voters have no say in how these charter schools spend taxpayer funding.
     “Instead of diverting taxpayer dollars to unaccountable charter schools, it’s time for the Legislature to fully fund K-12 public schools so that all of Washington’s children get the quality education the Constitution guarantees them,” Mead said.

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