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Washington state charter schools get constitutional win in Supreme Court

(AP photo)

Charter school proponents are praising a Thursday opinion from the Washington State Supreme Court stating that charter schools are constitutional. Opponents, such as the Washington Education Association, are vowing to “continue advocacy for all students, despite the charter school decision.”

The Supreme Court stated Thursday that Washington’s privately-run, publicly-funded charter schools are constitutional by a 5-4 ruling.

“Not all students learn the same way so our state has a responsibility to provide a range of choices that best meet the needs of children,” said State Senator John Braun. “Our state has recognized we must provide alternatives for students when a traditional public school does not meet their needs. Those methods include online classes, college courses while in high school, and for the last few years charter public schools, where we’ve seen positive results.”

Braun is a Republican who represents the state’s 20th Legislative District which includes parts of Thurston, Lewis, Cowlitz, and Clark Counties. He serves as the ranking Republican on the Senate Ways and Means Committee. He co-sponsored a bill that fixed a legal issue surrounding charter schools the first time they were legally threatened in 2015. At that time, the court ruled that the schools were unconstitutional because of their funding structure. They are now funded through lottery money.

Senator Hans Zeiger echoed Braun’s statement.

“I am pleased that the Supreme Court is allowing publicly funded independent charter schools to stay open,” Zeiger said. “Charter schools have proven to be a high-quality option for students and their families. These innovative public schools provide an alternative to the traditional K-12 school district model and serve students from low-income families.

“Public charter schools offer a quality education to children who may struggle in traditional public schools. Public charter schools will continue to be a pathway for more and more Washington state students.”

Opposition “disappointed” in Supreme Court

Washington’s charter school system was approved by voters in 36 of 39 counties via I-1240. After the 2015 court case, and legislative fix, another lawsuit was launched challenging the school’s unconstitutionality. It is that case the Supreme Court issued an opinion for on Thursday.

Charter school opponents say they disagree with the court, but plan to “move forward.”

“We’re disappointed in the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Washington’s charter school law,” said Rich Wood with the Washington Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union. “We still believe it’s wrong to divert public funding to privately-run schools that are not accountable to the local community.”

Wood said that the WEA is looking ahead and will continue to advocate for all of Washington’s 1.1 million public school students. He said that there is no plan to go to the Legislature for another charter school battle.

The WEA argues that since charter schools are private, parents and students have little say in their operation, unlike public schools.

“It’s important for schools that use public funds to be accountable to the local community,” Wood said. “….Local residents can go talk to their locally-elected school board if they have a concern about the way their local public school is being operated with public funds.”

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