Ruling ‘good news’ for charter schools

Answer on Sunnyside charter application likely next month

Succeeding on one-of-six tries doesn’t make for a good batting average or apparently a convincing case that Washington’s charter school law is unconstitutional.

That was the result yesterday, Thursday, when King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel ruled in a legal challenge to the state’s voter-approved charter school law.

The case was brought against Washington state by plaintiffs that included school administrators, educators and the League of Women Voters. They raised six questions opposing the legality of the charter school law backed by voters in 2012.

In her ruling yesterday, Rietschel essentially upheld the law, finding that only one limited aspect of the law should be stricken.

She found it unconstitutional to designate a charter school as a “common school.” Under her ruling, charter schools could be ineligible for certain limited funding sources reserved exclusively for common schools. 

In other words, charter schools won’t have access to state matching funds to construct school buildings.

And that suits supporters of the charter school movement just fine.

“Charter schools aren’t eligible anyway,” says David Richey, spokesperson for Washington State Charter Schools Association. “The judge upheld all the critical pieces of charter school law, but struck down construction funding.”

A local group that applied for a kindergarten through eighth grade charter school in Sunnyside is thrilled with the ruling.

“That’s good news. If that’s the bone they’re picking that’s not a big deal,” says Brittany Weaver, board chair of Charter Schools of Sunnyside. “I’m confident things will work out. Of course it’s discouraging to face opposition, but you’ll have that any time you seek change.”

If Sunnyside is granted a charter school – it is one of 22 applications the state is considering – Weaver says the plan is for a mix of grant and private funds to hopefully construct a school building in the area of the former Monson feedlot.

“Start-up costs are funds we already expected to raise,” Weaver said.

Appeals on yesterday’s decision are likely.

A press released issued on behalf of the plaintiffs’ attorney, Paul Lawrence, claimed the ruling makes charter schools “unconstitutional” and that it “struck down the core of the Charter School Act.”

But with a ruling upholding most of the law, the Washington State Charter Schools Association is pressing forward with establishing the schools.

“She upheld all the major portions of the law, there’s nothing about this (ruling) that slows anything down,” says Lisa Macfarlane, board member of the state charter schools association. “The ruling is a win for kids and the public. Charter schools are opening next fall.”

The idea of progressing forward with charter schools was also noted by Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

“As attorney general, it is my job to defend the will of the voters,” Ferguson said.

“The court has held the vast majority of the charter schools initiative constitutional, and the state will continue to implement this law,” Ferguson added.

Macfarlane said the 22 charter school applications are under review now, with up to eight of them getting the green light likely by the end of January 2014.

Whether or not Sunnyside’s charter school application is approved, Weaver says the experience has been worthwhile.

“Even if there’s a hiccup, it’s already increased our understanding of the way education works and built more bridges with our school district,” she says. “It’s already put us in a position for the school district to take us seriously and shows we are vested in our schools. We are going to be involved.”


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