Follow us:

Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

December 19, 2013 at 5:00 AM

Confused about the charter school ruling? A little history helps

Washington state constitution (Seattle Times archives)

Washington state constitution (Seattle Times archives)

Last week’s ruling on the constitutionality of Washington’s charter school law left many people confused, especially with both sides declaring victory. The questions are unlikely to be settled until the state Supreme Court weighs in.

In the meantime, here’s a little history to help us non-lawyers understand some of the issues better:

1. Even though King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel ruled that charter schools can’t be considered “common schools,” that doesn’t mean they can’t be public schools. The term “common schools” is largely synonymous with public schools, but not completely.

Article IX in the state Constitution lays out several kinds of public schools — common schools, but also technical schools and “normal” schools, the precursors to teachers colleges.  All those schools are supposed to be part of the state’s public school system.

The hitch: Only common schools are supposed to be funded from the “common school fund” and the “state tax for common schools.”

Interesting fact: Initially, not even high schools were considered common schools, although that’s since changed. And the state, in defending the charter-school law, pointed to that fact in arguing that the Legislature has changed and can change the definition of common schools.

2.   It’s unclear how much it will matter if charters can’t get money from the common school fund, or state property taxes. Some say lawmakers could just fund charters with sales taxes or business-and-occupational taxes instead.

Interesting fact: Rietschel cited a 1909 case, in which the state Supreme Court ruled that a teachers college in Cheney could not receive common school funds to run an elementary school. That case is known as the Bryan case, named after R.B. Bryan, a former state Superintendent of Public Instruction. The college had wanted public funds to run the school as a place where prospective teachers could receive some of their training. One of the main reasons the Supreme Court justices said no: The school wasn’t a common school because it wasn’t “under the control of the qualified voters of the school district.”

That was an argument that charter opponents have made in the recent case, too — that giving tax dollars to schools that aren’t subject to voter control is unconstitutional.

3.  No matter what Rietschel ruled, the Supreme Court may or may not agree. So stay tuned.

0 Comments | More in News | Topics: charter schools

COMMENTS

No personal attacks or insults, no hate speech, no profanity. Please keep the conversation civil and help us moderate this thread by reporting any abuse. See our Commenting FAQ.



The opinions expressed in reader comments are those of the author only, and do not reflect the opinions of The Seattle Times.


Advertising
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►