Four attorneys general refute Supreme Court’s charter school stance

Nov 2, 2015, 6:07 PM | Updated: Nov 3, 2015, 9:15 am
Former attorneys general Slade Gorton, Ken Eikenberry, Christine Gregoire and Rob McKenna stand wit...
Former attorneys general Slade Gorton, Ken Eikenberry, Christine Gregoire and Rob McKenna stand with current Attorney General Bob Ferguson. All have asked the Washington Supreme Court to reconsider its stance on funding charter schools. (State of Washington)
(State of Washington)

They may come from different perspectives, political parties and even eras, but Washington’s four living former attorneys general have come together to send a message to the state’s Supreme Court.

The ruling in question is a majority opinion of the Washington Supreme Court that states charter schools can’t receive funding as planned. It was news that disrupted the educational planes of nearly 1,300 students across the state at the start of the school year, according to former Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna.

McKenna, along with Slade Gorton, Kenneth Eikenberry, Christine Gregoire &#8212 all who served as the state’s attorney general &#8212 have authored a brief in support of the Supreme Court reconsidering its stance on charter school funding.

“As far as I know it’s unprecedented for all of the former [attorneys general] to ban together and file a brief like this,” McKenna said. “Reconsidering a ruling is not all that common &#8212 it’s actually pretty rare. The court does it once in a while and we hope this is one of those cases.”

According to the former attorneys general, the Supreme Court’s reasoning may be a little flawed. The court said the state needs to distinguish money used for common schools and for other non-traditional forms of education; that includes charter schools. Tax dollars for common schools go into the state’s general fund, and money for charter schools also come out of the general fund.

“The four former attorneys general &#8212 Republican and Democrat alike &#8212 and the current attorney general all believe that it is not very well thought out and will likely lead to unintended consequences for lots of kids in our state,” he said.

Those consequences include threats to funding for other non-traditional forms of education, McKenna notes. If the court is concerned that the distinction between dollars coming from the state’s general fund is hazy, then there is also a problem paying for other programs such as tribal schools, education in the juvenile justice system, and the popular Running Start program that places high school students in community colleges, allowing them to earn college credits.

“Unfortunately, they’ve decide that charter schools, which the voters approved a few years ago, somehow take money away from traditional public schools,” McKenna said. “Our point in the brief is that if that is true, then so is every other non-traditional form of public education.”

“The Supreme Court basically said that charter schools cannot be funded out of the state general fund because that is the fund the state’s common school levy goes into,” he said.

A solution, McKenna suggested, is simply segregating money used for charter schools and public schools.

McKenna said that the charter school decision comes at the same time as the Supreme Court is pressing the Legislature to fully fund public education in Washington, and that the court is likely concerned with funding for traditional education at the moment.

“The Supreme Court is very concerned about funding for K-12 education in our state and they have unanimously ruled in another case that the state is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to fully fund basic education for our kids,” McKenna said. “And we agree with that.”

But the attorneys general don’t agree with the court’s stance on charter schools. McKenna does not know what to expect from the Supreme Court as a response. He does, however, speculate that if the court turns around a quick response, it will likely not be to reconsider its decision.

“The longer they take, the more likely it is that they are rethinking their majority opinion, and might change it,” McKenna said.

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Four attorneys general refute Supreme Court’s charter school stance