Attorney General asks Supreme Court to reconsider charter school ruling

Sep 25, 2015 | Blog, Opinion

This afternoon, Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a Motion for Reconsideration in response to the State Supreme Court’s ruling on our voter-approved public charter school law. A news release from his office said the Court’s opinion “goes beyond what is necessary to resolve this case, creates tension with other decisions of this court, and calls into question programs far beyond charter schools.”

Ferguson followed by adding, “Regardless of one’s feelings about charter schools, the Court’s reasoning in striking them down raises serious concerns about other important educational programs. We are asking the Court to reconsider the language of the opinion to avoid uncertainty for programs that support students throughout our state.”

The State asked the Court to consider four key points (more detail on each is available at the link):

  • Its rejection of the funding system the voters chose for charter schools, which mirrors the funding mechanism of other education programs.
  • That even if the funding system is invalid, the rest of I-1240 should be left intact. Washington voters have routinely passed education initiatives — including the initiative to reduce class sizes passed last year (I-1351) — without specifying a funding source.
  • Removing language stating that only schools under the “complete control” of school districts can receive certain State funding, as the language puts a wide range of programs in jeopardy and is contrary to parts of the state constitution that give the Legislature and Superintendent of Public Instruction significant roles in controlling public schools.
  • Eliminating specific language in the opinion that also threatens the state’s innovative educational programs beyond charter schools.

As the State points out:

The Court suggests in a footnote that because charter schools are not controlled by school districts, they violate the requirement in the state constitution that the State provide a “general and uniform” system of public schools. However, a wide range of public education programs are not controlled by school districts, from tribal compact schools to programs for highly capable students at the University of Washington. The Court has never before suggested that these programs make the system “non-uniform.”

In a separate motion also filed today, the Attorney General’s Office asked the Court to delay the effective date of its ruling until the end of the school year if it denies the State’s motion for reconsideration. Nearly 1,300 Washington students are currently enrolled in charter schools. We know that more than two-thirds of these students are low income, and many others are English language learners or students with disabilities. They deserve to continue attending the school their families chose without disruption.

The State is not alone is its disagreement with the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the law. In addition to Attorney General Bob Ferguson, four former Attorney Generals came to the same conclusion. Here’s what they had to say about the ruling.

Rob McKenna, two-term AG (2005-2013)

“The court needs to reconsider its decision, which was not well reasoned, threatens programs beyond charter schools, and relies on a pretty outmoded concept of our school system that dates to 1909.  Our ‘common schools’ look quite different today than they did back then!”

Christine Gregoire, three-term AG (1993-2005) and former governor

“I think the minority opinion in that case is spot-on. But I’ve got to tell you, even more surprising to me than the outcome of the case is the timing of it. The case had sat before the court for some time, and then it issues its opinion on the eve of when these students are going to go to school, these parents are expecting their students to go to school…The court just has to be aware of the implications of a decision like this and what it means to the children and the families when they have their children all scheduled to go to school and then are put on a moment’s notice that ‘your kid has no place to go.’ Not right, not fair.”

Ken Eikenberry, three-term AG (1981-1993)

“I am strongly in favor of A.G. Ferguson’s motion that the Washington State Supreme Court should re-consider its ruling on charter schools. Charter schools are a valid part of our constitutional public school system, and the question of whether they are a ‘common school’ is beside the point.”

Slade Gorton, three-term AG (1969-1981) and U.S. Senator

The charter schools ruling was “an absolute disgrace.”

These respected AGs, a blend of Democrats and Republicans, agree that the state supreme court made a mistake in its charter school ruling. WA Charters stands with them, and will also be filing a Motion for Reconsideration before our deadline of October 23.

Those in Olympia need to fix this glitch and ensure public charter school students, and all those who benefit from programs that could be impacted by the Court’s ruling, continue to get the education and opportunities they deserve.