Q & A: Supreme Court Ruling on Charter School Law

Sep 8, 2015 | Updates

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Since the State Supreme Court issued its ruling on public charter schools last Friday evening, we have all been working hard to understand the details of the decision and its implications on the 1,200 children already attending charter schools.

We wanted to share this brief Q&A to provide some answers to the common questions we’ve received from families in the last few days.

Q: Why did the Court rule that Washington’s public charter schools are unconstitutional?

A:  The Court ruled Washington’s public charter school law unconstitutional because of a century-old precedent that said public charter schools cannot receive public funding because they are not “common schools” that elect school board members.

However, the public charter school law was passed by Washington voters in 2012, and the law is one of the strongest in the nation. Public charter schools meet the same high standards and stronger accountability measures as other public schools, in exchange for the flexibility to tailor instruction to meet the needs of every individual student.

Using the Court’s interpretation, programs like Running Start and Tribal Compact Schools cannot receive public funds because they do not have elected school boards.

To be clear: the Court did not make the ruling based on the merit, quality, or performance of public charter schools.

Click on these links to learn more about the lawsuit and the ruling.

Q: Have schools been officially notified about closing?

A:  No. The ruling does not become effective for 20 days. The schools, the Washington State Charter Schools Association (WA Charters), and many others are doing everything possible to keep all nine public charter schools open. Each school’s priority—first and foremost—is to keep educating their 1,200 students and minimize any disruption to the students and their families.

Q: If the state does not provide funding, how will the school stay open?

A:  WA Charters and our many partners are exploring every short- and long-term option to keep public charter schools open and protect every parent’s ability to choose a high-quality public charter school. It is still early, but we are confident we can secure any funding schools may need until a long-term solution, such as a new charter school law, can be put in place.

We are pursuing every legal and legislative option, including asking Governor Inslee and legislators to hold a special session to address this. Click here to add your voice!

Q: Did you know this could happen? Why are we just learning about this ruling?

A:  WA Charters and other advocates defended the law in Court arguments nearly one year ago, and knew that any decision was possible. Based on insights and rulings previous to referral to the state Supreme Court, legal experts believed a decision like this was unlikely and should a ruling come out against the public charter school law, it would have been narrower—and wouldn’t have affected the entire law.

In fact, a previous ruling from the King County Superior Court indicated that the “common schools” funding provision could be separated from the other elements of the law, which would be otherwise left intact.

Washington’s voter-approved charter school law was crafted to be one of the strongest in the nation. It is not clear why the Court made this decision after 9 public charter schools were already open.

Q: What is being done to address this ruling?

A:  WA Charters, the schools and many others are identifying both short- and long-term solutions to keep schools open and to protect a parent’s ability to choose a high-quality public charter school.

In the short term, one possibility is filing a motion for reconsideration with the State Supreme Court. In addition, we are calling on Governor Inslee and state legislators to address the decision immediately. We are exploring several other options to keep every public charter school opening and educating its students.

Q: What can parents do to support your child’s school?

A:  As a parent, you can share your family’s story and the reasons why you chose to enroll your child in a public charter school. If you want to join the #SaveWACharterSchools effort, consider urging Governor Inslee and your state legislator to take immediate action, sharing your story on social media, submitting a letter to the editor, and asking your child’s school how you can help.