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December 13, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Charter schools pass court scrutiny mostly intact

EducationSomeone at the Washington Education Association needs to brush up on their reading comprehension. The state teachers’ union crowed with jubilation Thursday, saying that King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel had ruled Initiative 1240, the charter schools law, unconstitutional.

Here’s the WEA’s tweet:

Except she didn’t. Judge Rietschel upheld most of the law passed by voters last November.

“Considering the requirements the charter schools must comply with, namely, educational goals, student assessments and other related measurements, the court holds that the charter school act meets the definition of a general and uniform system,” Rietschel wrote.

Rietschel’s order left the law intact, but her ruling also noted two specific parts do violate the state constitution. One is charter schools’ designation as “common schools,” which makes them eligible for state funding sources like public school construction money. Rietschel argued that a charter school is not a common school ”because it’s not under the control of voters in a school district.” I find that to be an antiquated view carried over from constitutional framers who did not envision a day when various types of public schools would exist, including magnet/gifted schools, online schools and those operated by public universities.

Charter supporters dismiss the common schools portion of the ruling as technical and not anything that will block the launch of new schools in 2014. However,  this Associated Press story raises a caution flag, noting “under the state Constitution, schools have to be under the control of voters in their districts to be considered part of the state system and obtain state construction funding.”

The judge dismissed arguments by charter opponents that the new law was an unlawful delegation of the state Legislature’s duty. And she rejected the argument that public charter schools usurp the authority of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. This part of the ruling makes for interesting reading because the judge lays out the duties of Randy Dorn, which she defined as including teacher certification, school funding and state assessments. My take on the levy part of the ruling is that Rietschel is saying it is premature to say charters do not deserve levy money when they have not even asked for any.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson released a statement on Thursday that read in part“The court has upheld the vast majority of the charter schools initiative constitutional, and the state will continue to implement the law.”

The Washington Supreme Court is likely to have the last word. For all of the bellyaching by charter opponents about the need for more money for education, my guess is they will find plenty of cash to continue fighting charters. Meanwhile, the Washington State Charter Schools Association continues to review 21 applications vying to become one of eight charter schools that can open in fall 2014.



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