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Parents React with Anger at Crass Move by Plaintiffs to Block Families from Case

For Immediate Release | August 31, 2016
CONTACT: Cynara Lilly at (206) 915-7821 or Maggie Meyers at (724) 263-9826

“Organizations Suing to Close Charter Public Schools Cannot Block us From Having Our Say”

SEATTLE, Wash. – Families representing Washington’s charter public schools responded with extreme frustration today to a crass attempt by plaintiffs—including multiple unions, the League of Women Voters and El Centro de La Raza—to block parents from intervening in a lawsuit that seeks to close their children’s public schools. Last week, twelve families, six schools and the Washington State Charter Schools Association filed a motion to intervene in the politically motivated lawsuit. Yesterday, plaintiffs filed to block families and schools from having a say.

“As a key stakeholder, I am offended at every level that organizations that claim to know and act in the best interest of families and kids in Washington state are now trying to block us from having a say in court proceedings that directly impact our children’s lives and futures,” said Shirline Wilson, parent of Miles, 12, who attends Rainier Prep middle school in south King County. “Enough is enough. Trying to push families out of the conversation is a clear indication that this is political battle disguised as a legal one, designed to suppress parent and student voices and ignore our stake in the case.”

“It is especially hypocritical that organizations like El Centro de La Raza, an organization which purports to fight for Hispanic families with a mission that states that they are ‘grounded in the Latino community’ is trying to block members of the Latino community like my family from having a voice in the courtroom,” added Ed Pacheco, father, Yakima. “This lawsuit is designed to harm our families by cutting off our access to high-quality public school options. We will not be intimidated and we will not stand down.”

Former Attorney General Rob McKenna, whose firm Orrick represents the public charter school students and parents in this suit, had the following to say about the strength of the families’ motion to intervene in the case, filed last week:

These families absolutely have a legal stake in this case and their children’s future, and legal right to participate in this case. We view this lawsuit as a political tactic  – a cynical threat designed to seed uncertainty and scare families away from accessing high-quality educational choices for their children. This is an especially deplorable action as families are trying to move forward from months of fighting to keep their schools open and have been focusing on the future. Legal experts from both sides of the aisle in Olympia, including non-partisan staff attorneys, combed through ESSSB 6194 word-by-word to make sure the re-enacted charter public schools law passes constitutional muster. We believe that it does and that we have a very strong case. Quite simply, this lawsuit disingenuously frames a politically motivated attack as a set of legal questions.

The twelve families, representing all eight of Washington’s existing charter public schools as well as the community of Yakima, which has been organizing to open a charter public school, came together with the Washington State Charter Schools Association and several individual existing and planned schools last week to file a collective motion to intervene in the recently filed lawsuit El Centro de la Raza v. Washington, designed to close their schools and overturn the will of Washington voters.

Last week, intervenors also filed a separate motion to dismiss all of the organizational plaintiffs named in the lawsuit – the same organizations that believe they have a right to close schools and that families do not have say. The motion was filed on the grounds that the advocacy organizations are merely attempting to rehash policy arguments in a courtroom by recasting them as constitutional concerns – policy arguments that were decided on at both ballot box and in the 2016 Legislative session. The Washington Education Association, the League of Women Voters and El Centro De La Raza are among the lobbying groups the group is asking to have dismissed. On a similar basis, the State also filed a motion to dismiss certain arguments by the plaintiffs, again, because those arguments were raised, or can only be raised, in the legislature, not the court system.

About Washington’s Public Charter Schools
Charter schools are a type of public school, approved and overseen by a state or district authorizer. Like all public schools, they do not charge tuition, they are open to all students, and they are publicly funded. However, charter public schools are held more accountable for showing improved student achievement. In exchange for greater accountability, teachers and principals are given more flexibility to customize their teaching methods and curriculum to improve student learning.

The state’s existing charter public schools opened after voters passed a ballot initiative in 2012 authorizing the creation of more high-quality public school options for hardworking Washington families. When the Washington Supreme Court identified a glitch in the voter-approved charter public school law, a bipartisan group of lawmakers studied, vetted and in March 2016 passed a bill specifically designed to address the Court’s concerns. Legal experts from both sides of the aisle, including non-partisan staff attorneys, combed through ESSB 6194 to ensure that it passed constitutional muster and restored the will of the voters by creating a path for charter public schools’ long-term success.

Washington’s charter public schools are helping to close the education equity gap. More than 67 percent of charter public school students in Washington in 2015-16 were students of color, as compared to 43 percent statewide. Two-thirds of charter public school students in 2015-16 qualified for free or reduced-price school meals, as compared to 45 percent statewide. At four of Washington’s charter public schools, this number exceeds 70 percent.

In some communities, traditional public schools are meeting the needs of local students. But in other communities – particularly communities of color that struggle with poverty – they are not. In Washington, African American, Latino and Native American students are scoring between 15-20 percent lower on state assessments.

With just one year under their belt, charter public schools already are making a quantifiable difference in the lives of hundreds of Washington families, particularly in historically under-resourced and under-served communities. According to mid-year assessment results, students at Washington’s charter public schools – many of whom entered the school year a grade level or more behind – were already making impressive gains in reading and math toward meeting or exceeding state and national standards. End-of-year data further demonstrated promising results for charter public school students after just one year.

This month, Washington’s operating charter public schools are back in session for their second school year, having quickly become a vital part of Washington’s public education.