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IS WASHINGTON'S CHARTER SCHOOL ACT UNCONSTITUTIONAL?
July 12, 2013

On July 3, 2012, community groups, educators, and parents filed League of Women Voters of Washington v. State, claiming that the state's newly approved Charter School Act ("the Act") violates the Washington Constitution.

In their Complaint filed in State Superior Court, plaintiffs assert that the new law "violates the education provisions of the Washington Constitution, impedes the State's ability to fund public education as required [by the constitution]," and diverts public school funds to private organizations that are not subject to local voter control.

"The Charter School Act poses a real threat to our public school system in Washington," said Plaintiff Dr. Wayne Au. "Not only does it divert already deficient state funds from public schools to private organizations, it also exempts those private organizations from many of the standards that are in place to ensure that all children receive an adequate education."

In addition to the League of Women Voters, plaintiffs include El Centro de la Raza, a Seattle-based group dedicated to social justice, the Washington Association of School Administrators, an organization of more than 1,600 school administrators, the Washington Education Association, an organization that represents nearly 82,000 public school employees, and individuals on their own behalf and on behalf of their minor children. The sole defendant is the State of Washington.

The Complaint claims that the Act violates the constitution in seven ways, including:

1.     It improperly delegates the State's constitutional "paramount duty" to provide for the education of children within its borders to private organizations that are not subject to the requirements and standards in place to ensure that all children receive a constitutionally sufficient education.

2.     It violates the State's paramount duty to make ample provision for the education of all children within its borders by interfering with the State's progress toward complying with the Washington Supreme Court directive to the Legislature to fully fund basic educational programs by 2018, as set forth in the 2012 McCleary decision.

3.     It unconstitutionally diverts public funds that are restricted to use for public common schools to private charter schools that are not subject to local voter control, and it mandates the use of local voter-approved levy funds for a purpose other than the purpose for which the voters approved the levies.

4.     It violates the Constitution's "general and uniform" provision because charter schools are not subject to many laws and regulations applicable to public schools, including many of the provisions defining a basic education.

5.     It violates the constitutional requirement that the superintendent of public instruction "have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools."

Plaintiffs are asking the King County Superior Court to declare the Act unconstitutional and issue an injunction prohibiting its implementation.

Washington State earned low marks from the best available analysis of school funding systems, the National Report Card on School Funding Fairness. With an F in "effort," and a mediocre score in the level of funding, Washington is far from having the features of a quality funding system.

Washington performs poorly in the area over which states exert the most control, earning an F on state fiscal effort. The few states that receive F's for fiscal effort devote a relatively small proportion of their state economic output to fund public education compared to other states. Washington provides only 3.1% of the state's fiscal resources to public education, while Vermont, the highest ranked state, provides almost twice that at 5.7%. 

Washington also ranks below the national average on overall funding level. Using figures adjusted to allow state-to-state comparisons, the Report Card finds that the average funding level in Washington is deficient at almost $1,100 less per pupil than the national average.

Related Stories:
Washington State School Funding System Unconstitutional
Washington Lawsuit Reveals Deficiencies and Inequities
Education Justice Press Contact:
Molly A. Hunter, Esq.
Director, Education Justice
email: mhunter@edlawcenter.org
voice: 973 624-1815 x19
www.edlawcenter.org
www.educationjustice.org


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