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SUPREME COURT FINDS CHARTER SCHOOL LAW UNCONSTITUTIONAL
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."
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
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
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