Archives for category: Washington State

The Washington State Supreme Court turned down an appeal from its September ruling that charter schools are not public schools and cannot receive public funding. The vote was 5-4.

Only one charter existed before August 2015, when another 8 opened. Advocates for charters said these new schools were already getting “tremendous results,” even though they opened only three months ago.

As is now customary, charters bussed their students to the state Capitol, in hopes of swaying the decision, but they produced only hundreds of students, not the thousands that appear to pressure legislators where charters are well established. No one asked about the legality or propriety of closing the school for a political rally, a practice that public schools are it permitted to do.

Some background: Washington State has conducted four referenda on whether to permit charters. The first three failed. In 2012, Bill Gates and a handful of other billionaires put $10-15 million behind a new charter law, a sum that overwhelmed the law’s opponents. It passed by a margin of less than 1%.

Charter critics hoped the county’s decision would return the legislature’s attention to another Court decision: adequate funding.

“The court’s announcement Thursday should help refocus the Legislature’s attention on boosting funding for K-12 public schools, said Rich Wood, a spokesman for the statewide teacher’s union that challenged the charter law.

In the case known as McCleary, the Supreme Court has held the Legislature in contempt for its failure to come up with a plan to fully fund basic education by 2018.

“Now it’s time for the Legislature to focus on its paramount duty … and fully fund K-12 schools for all of our state’s kids,” said Wood, of the Washington Education Association. “That’s what we expect lawmakers to do when they return in January.”

Jonathan Pelto has covered the charter school scams and scandals in Connecticut and often pointed out that the charters with the highest scores don’t accept the lowest performing students. That was the original purpose of charters. Ironically, the same cast of characters and hedge fund managers can be found pushing privatization of public schools across the nation.

In this post, Pekto draws attention to an excellent article on this subject by Sarah Darer Littman.

Littman analyzes the Washington state court decision and connects its relevance to Connecticut.

Jonathan writes:

“In her latest piece, Littman challenges Connecticut legislators to pay “close attention to several interesting legal developments on the West Coast, which could have significant implications here in the Nutmeg State.”

Sarah Darer Littman writes,

“The first came Sept. 5, when the state Supreme Court in Washington ruled 6-3 that charter schools don’t qualify as “common” schools under the state’s constitution, and therefore can’t receive public funding intended for traditional public schools.

“Our inquiry is not concerned with the merits or demerits of charter schools,” Chief Justice Barbara Madsen wrote in the majority opinion. “Whether charter schools would enhance our state’s public school system or appropriately address perceived shortcomings of that system are issues for the legislature and the voters. The issue for this court is what are the requirements of the constitution.”

Littman writes:

“Charter schools have always tried to play the public/private issue both ways. The acts of calling themselves “public” when it comes to claiming funds from the public purse, yet immediately claiming to be private entities the minute accountability and FOIA matters are raised, have created several interesting conundrums, as we have observed right here in our own backyard. (See FUSE, ConnCAN)

In the Washington State case this play it both ways strategy finally went pear-shaped:

[The Washington court writes:]

“The words ‘common school’ must measure up to every requirement of the constitution . . . and whenever by any subterfuge it is sought to qualify or enlarge their meaning beyond the intent and spirit of the constitution, the attempt must fail . . . Bryan established the rule that a common school, within the meaning of our constitution, is one that is common to all children of proper age and capacity, free, and subject to and under the control of the qualified voters of the school district. The complete control of the schools is a most important feature, for it carries with it the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to select qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent.”

Littman writes:

“The court listed all the ways charters fail to meet these qualifications. Namely, they are:

1) “governed by a charter school board,” which is “appointed or selected . . . to manage and operate the charter school.”

2) The charter school board has the power to hire and discharge charter school employees and may contract with nonprofit organizations to manage the charter school.

3) They are “free from many regulations” that govern other schools.

4) Charter schools are “exempt from all school district policies,” as well as “all . . . state statutes and rules applicable to school districts” except those listed in I-1240 section 204(2) and those made applicable in the school’s charter contract.”

Littman writes:

“In other words the Washington state court finally issued a ruling confirming what many of us here in Connecticut have been saying for years: charters are siphoning off taxpayer money from the public school system without sufficient (if any) accountability. Calling them “public schools” is merely convenient political fiction.”

A news blast from the Education Law Center:

September 11, 2015


Olympia, WA — On September 4, 2015, in League of Women Voters of Washington v. State, the Washington Supreme Court voided the state’s charter school statute because it circumvents local control and diverts education funds away from district schools, in violation of the state constitution.

Local control of K-12 schooling is essential and required in Washington. Local voters through their elected boards of education are the only entities permitted to govern public schools and receive public funds for “common schools.” Yet, the charter statute allowed charters to be authorized and run by private, appointed boards completely outside the control of local voters and school boards. And, the statute required the state and local taxpayers to fund the charters equally with the public schools.

The plaintiffs, including League of Women Voters, El Centro de la Raza, Washington Association of School Administrators, Washington Education Association, and individuals, were “[a]larmed over the lack of local accountability and [the] fiscal impacts of the Act,” the Court explained, and sought a judgment that the Act was unconstitutional.

Relying on longstanding and numerous precedential cases, the Court concluded that “Charter Schools Are Not Common Schools” and “The Charter School Act’s Funding Provisions Fail.”

Common Schools

The Court wrote that “This case turns on … article IX, section 2 of our state constitution and this court’s case law addressing that provision.” Article IX, section 2 provides:

The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.

To tap the funding sources identified in article IX, the charter law simply declared charter schools to be “common schools.” The law asserts that charter schools are eligible for local levy funding and state funding equal to that for the public schools. The law’s intent was to shift school funding from existing common schools to charters.

However, “common schools” have been defined in Washington for well over a century, as follows:

a common school, within the meaning of our constitution, is one that is common to all children of proper age … , free, and subject to and under the control of the qualified voters of the school district. The complete control of the schools is a most important feature, for it carries with it the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to select qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them … .

School District No. 20 v. Bryan (1909). Several subsequent cases have followed and applied Bryan.

The charter law provides that charters are “governed by a charter school board” which is “appointed or selected … to manage and operate the charter school,” the Court stated, citing the statute. Furthermore, the charter board has the power to hire and discharge employees and may contract with other organizations to manage the charter. Charters are “exempt from all school district policies” and “all … state statues and rules applicable to school districts,” with a few minor exceptions stated in the statute.

The Court concluded that because the charters are to be run by an appointed board or other organization and not subject to local voter control, they are not “common schools.”

Funding Provisions Fail

The Court reminded the parties that “when adopting our constitution the people of this state ‘endeavored to protect and preserve the funds set apart by law for the support of the common schools from invasion, so that they might be applied exclusively to … such schools.'”(citing Bryan). The Washington Supreme Court has, throughout the 20th century and earlier, “struck down laws diverting common school funds to any other purpose.” The Court cited cases from 1995, 1939, 1914 and 1897.

Under the charter statute, money that is dedicated to common schools would be unconstitutionally diverted to charters, the Court wrote. “‘Once appropriated to the support of the common schools,’ funds cannot ‘subsequently be diverted to other purposes'” even if related to education. “This court cautioned that to hold otherwise ‘would be calamitous,'” the Court said, citing an earlier decision.

In conclusion, the Court declared the charter statute “unconstitutional and void.”

Related Stories:

Please note that the Florida state constitution vests all control of public schools to boards.
Florida: “In each school district there shall be a school board … the school board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the district … .” Fla. Const. Art. IX, § 4 (a)-(b).

I read this to mean that charter boards operating publicly funded charter schools and getting capital funding from the state legislature violate the state constitution in Florida.

Education Law Center Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter
Education Justice, Director
973-624-1815, x 19

Wayne Au, a professor at the University of Washington, explains why the Washington Supreme Court declared charter schools unconstitutional and why this decision has national implications.

The Court’s decision, he writes, was a “major rebuke” to the charter industry (and to Seattle’s richest resident, Bill Gates, who plunked millions into the 2012 referendum allowing charter schools, which passed by 50.69% of the vote).

At the heart of the Washington State’s Supreme Court ruling was the idea that charter schools, as defined by the law, were not actually “public schools.” The key issue is this: Washington State’s constitution has a provision that only “common schools” receive tax dollars allocated for public education. The law in Washington State is structured so that charter schools are governed at both the school level and state level by an appointed board, not an elected one. As such, charter schools in Washington State would receive public monies without any guarantee of accountability to any democratically elected, public body. The Washington State Supreme Court decided that this lack of public oversight of charter schools meant that did not meet the definition of “common schools” and therefore are not eligible to receive public monies made available for public schools.

Au was a plaintiff in the lawsuit; before that, he frequently spoke and wrote about the dangers that privately managed charter schools pose to public education. He understood that they are a precursor to privatization and a direct threat to community responsibility for public schools for all children.

As background, he points out that the Washington Supreme Court had previously ordered the legislature to fully fund the state’s public schools and is fining the legislature $100,000 a day for its failure to do so (since August 15).

Charter school supporters are furious about the Court’s decision and are now trying to persuade the legislature to create a separate funding stream for charter schools. Au asks how this make sense: Why should the legislature create a separate fund for charters enrolling 1,300 students when it has not properly funded public schools enrolling 1 MILLION students?

Sing no sad songs for the nine charter schools that are ruled ineligible for public funding by the Washington State Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision.

Mercedes Schneider reports that the charters raised $14 million from their friends in the 1% community, enough to keep them going for a year while their friends figure out a way to circumvent the court’s ruling.

We will see how committed their billionaire allies are to charters after one year, or whether their real commitment is to privatization of public money intended for public schools whose doors are open to all.

The following item appeared this morning in’s education edition:

– “I guess it’s ironic or something that the only public school that will be open in Seattle tomorrow is a charter school,” tweeted [ ] education researcher Robin Lake, a nod to the Washington state Supreme Court ruling late last week that the state’s charter school law is unconstitutional.

What is even more ironic is that Robin Lake (of the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington), which advocates for charters and “portfolio districts” and is Gates-funded) continues to refer to charter schools as “public schools” even after the Washington State Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that charter schools were not eligible for public funding because they are not “common schools” (public schools), as defined in the state constitution, not answerable to an elected board but to a private board.

Apparently the Center on Reinventing Public Education does not accept the ruling of the state’s highest court as meaningful or definitive. What part of the ruling do they not understand?

Mercedes Schneider reports that the few charters in Washington State intend to stay open with private funding and continue to seek public funding.

A few days ago, the Eashington State Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that charter schools are not entitled to state funding because they are not “common schools,” as defined in the state constitution. They do not have democratic control but are run by private boards.

“Thus, the nine charter schools in Washington State in 2015-16 will almost certainly not be funded using public money. However, as Komo News reports, all nine schools vow that they will remain open this school year by raising the estimated $14 million they need via private donations.

“Note, however, that the intention is that charter schools draw public money and not just survive on private funds. So, these nine charters’ surviving the year on private donations is certainly a short-term fix. The public can watch to see who steps up with the temporary millions– unless the money does not come from a nonprofit– in which case the public might not know who is financing the effort.

“Meanwhile, as Komo News notes, the Washington State Charter Schools Association plans to petition the Washington State Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling (and to perhaps turn to the dissenting opinion of three judges who stated that they agreed that charter schools are not common (i.e., public) schools, but that they should be able to be funded via the general fund.”

Hmmm. Wonder who will put up $14 million? Maybe the same small group of billionaires who put up $17 million to pass the referendum on charters, which passed by about 1%.

Peter Greene has a solution to the Washington State charter school problem. We know that charter advocates are very upset because the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools sent out an “urgent” notice, calling on its allies to write to Washington Governor Jay Inslee and urge him to call the legislature into special session to keep the state’s handful of charter schools open. This doesn’t seem to be a good solution, because neither the governor nor the legislature can override a decision by the state’s highest court, which said that charter schools were unconstitutional because they are not “common schools” controlled by an elected school board. In other words, contrary to the state constitution, they are not public schools and cannot use money designated for public schools.

Peter Greene says there is a simple solution to solve this issue.

Just submit to being overseen by an elected school board.

Act like the public schools you claim to be. Make your finances and operation completely transparent to the public.

And allow yourselves to be overseen by an elected school board instead of a collection of individuals who are not answerable to the voters or the taxpayers.

I mean– what’s more important to you? Providing a strong educational alternative for those 1,200 students, or holding on your ability to do whatever you want without having to answer to the public? Is it so important to you that you not be accountable to the public that you would rather engage in timeconsuming rewrites of state law, or even just close your doors, rather than let yourself submit to transparent and open oversight by a group of citizens elected by the very taxpayers whose money you use to run your school?

Now, here is an amazing bit of prescience.

Parents Across America, the group formed by parents to support public schools, wrote a letter to the state superintendent in 2013 explaining why charters in Washington State are unconstitutional.

Initiative 1240 is unconstitutional, they argued, for the following reasons:

We therefore urge the Office of the State Superintendent of Public Instruction to pursue a legal challenge to I-1240, based on the following grounds:

1. I-1240 would establish a charter school commission comprised of politically appointed members with no election by, or accountability to, the general public. It would allocate authorization and accountability for charter schools to this commission, circumventing state-mandated oversight of our public schools by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and local school boards. (Yet this commission would cost taxpayers an estimated $3 million.)The creation of such a commission would be in violation of state law which requires public oversight of all public schools. (See: Article III, Section 22, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Duties and Salary.“The superintendent of public instruction shall have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools, and shall perform such specific duties as may be prescribed by law.”)

2. Charter schools would not meet the definition of “common schools.” Since 1909, a “common school” has been defined as “one that is common to all children of proper age and capacity, free, and subject to, and under the control of, the qualified voters, of a school district.” Sch. Dist. No. 20, Spokane County v. Bryan, 51 Wn. 498, 99 P. 28 (1909). The state constitution also mandates a “general and uniform system of public schools.” Instead, Initiative 1240 would create an unequal subset of schools that would be granted exclusive rights and resources not accorded all schools and all children. These schools would be exempt from public oversight, violating state law that requires all public schools to be “common schools” and part of a “uniform system.” Subsequently, if charter schools are not “common,” then they do not qualify for state funding as stipulated in Article IX, Section 2, which states: “the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.”

3. Initiative 1240 also violates state law as recognized by the McCleary decision of January 5, 2012 (McCleary v. State of Washington), which maintains that the state has a constitutionally mandated (Article IX, section 1) “paramount duty” to fully fund all of its public schools. I-1240 would divert funding from common schools to specific schools with unique rights, creating inequity, and further diluting already inadequate resources from our public (“common”) schools, which is in violation of this law.

On Friday, the Washington Supreme Court (the highest court in the state) ruled that charters are unconstitutional and the Court’s reasoning echoes the points made two years ago by PAA.

Well done, Parents!

This ruling gives hope to parents all across America, who see charter schools draining funding from their public schools, favoring the privileges of the few over the rights of the many.

Sorry, hedge fund managers!

Here is the decision. Read it for yourself.

This is a big win for parents and public schools.


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