After decades of litigation against charter schools throughout the nation, Washington’s Supreme Court delivered the first and only decision that invalidated an entire state charter school law—over a technicality on how charter schools are funded. While the nation’s teachers unions celebrated over the weekend, this technicality left nearly 1,200 children and families confused and afraid that the very schools they began attending just a week ago will be closed.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Washington’s Supreme Court by-passed readily available and more reasonable solutions in favor of an extreme outcome. Other state supreme courts have faced similar local control and local funding issues and have found remedies that respected both the will of the people and the state constitution. No other state has invalidated an entire charter school law because of these provisions.
In Colorado, local school boards retain control and oversight of charter schools in their communities as long as they follow the provisions of Colorado’s charter school law. If school boards do not follow the law, the state board of education can remove their “exclusive authority” and allow charter school applicants to apply to the state’s Charter Schools Institute.
In South Carolina, charter schools are funded only with state monies, not local property tax funds.
Courts in Florida and Georgia did away with each state’s charter school commission because they were found to violate the state constitution’s local control provisions, but neither court invalidated the entire law. The law stayed in place and school boards kept chartering. Georgia later amended its state constitution and re-established its state charter school commission.
Only the Washington Supreme Court took the extreme position of invalidating the entire charter school law. Ironically, the Court made very clear in its decision that the ruling had nothing to do with education policy or school quality; it was only about the control of money.
Citing a decision from 1909, the Court ruled against the voters of 2012 who approved the charter school law. Can you imagine if the laws that were around when Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone still applied to your current cell phone contract?
The real losers in this case are Washington’s school children, not Washington’s charter schools. Without charter schools and other school improvements, Washington’s low-income, African-American, and Latino children will continue to be denied access to the same kinds of high-quality schools enjoyed by wealthier, white, and Asian families. And Washington’s low-income, African-American, and Latino children will continue to graduate in lower numbers, less prepared for success in college and life.
There is time to prevent these schools from closing. We encourage Governor Inslee to call a special legislative session to find a solution that protects these 1,200 students and families, respects the will of Washington voters, and honors the state constitution.
Supporters of quality schools can voice their support on Twitter using #SaveWACharterSchools.