Charter schools have been upheld in Washington courts yet again

Attorney Rob McKenna, who represented intervening charter school parents and families in the recently settled case, speaks alongside a group of charter school students and parents in January. (Photo by Matt Halvorson)

Hey, great news! The charter school lawsuit is over! A judge upheld the law as constitutional.

It's time to celebrate and put all this hyper-political nonsense behind us. It's time to move forward, building a network of great schools with the ability to operate outside the purview of our systemically racist, intentionally colonial public school system.

Wait... didn't we already do this?


First, the details, courtesy of Paige Cornwell of the Seattle Times:

A King County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that the plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging Washington’s charter-school law didn’t demonstrate that charter schools are unconstitutional.
Friday’s ruling is part of an ongoing legal battle over the constitutionality of Washington’s charter-school law. The lawsuit was filed by a coalition of parents, educators and civic groups.
Coalition members haven’t decided whether they’ll appeal yet, said Rich Wood, spokesman for the Washington Education Association.
The state’s eight charter schools are public schools, open to any student, but they are run by private organizations. About 1,600 students attend charter schools in the state, according to the Washington State Charter Schools Association.

"With [this] decision, students can return their focus to learning, and parents can rest easy knowing their kids’ schools can continue to provide their kids with the quality public education they deserve," said said Tom Franta, CEO of WA Charters.

But can they?

After all, Rich Wood and the teachers union "haven't decided whether they'll appeal yet." They haven't decided yet whether they will continue this specific version of their dogged defense of the status quo. They haven't decided yet whether they will needlessly repeat history for a third time.

"We face a group of politically motivated and powerful organizations who want to keep us in court and attempt to make our future uncertain," said DFER's Shirline Wilson at a press conference last month prior to the final hearing. "In the case of El Centro vs. Washington, I want you to understand that this is purely an attempt to shutter these effective public schools and remove our choices for gap-closing education. We refuse to be intimidated, and we refuse to stand down."

I like to think maybe the WEA and its cronies might give up this costly, distracting fight against its own past and future, but history tells us this lawsuit isn't over.

At least we can rest assured, based on that same history, that school choice won't go down without a fight in Washington.

"We will not be silenced by lobbying groups that value politics over truly improving public education outcomes," Wilson said.

And for now, we get to celebrate again, and breathe a rare sigh of relief. Whatever the politics suggest, whatever the status quo would have you believe, public school choice is an important civil rights issue, and it won the day again in Washington. Thank goodness for some good news.

Senate Joins House in Voting to Save Charter Schools

By Matt Halvorson

Every day this school year, every kid in every charter school classroom in the state has studied and learned without knowing if his or her school would be allowed to stay open.

Every day this year, every teacher in every charter school classroom in the state has worked hard to teach every single kid, all while knowing the schools that pay them might be forced to shut their doors.

Every day this year, each one of the 1,100 charter school students in our state -- including some in my neighborhood, and probably in yours -- have heard the daily expressions of systemic and overt racism and classism directed at them and their school.

They have felt attacked and unwanted by their own communities and their own state, even as a wall of teachers, administrators, parents, friends, advocates and legislators did their best to shield them and fight for them.

But today, finally, we are on the verge of something different.

The Washington State Senate voted in favor of equity in education today, approving a bill by a 26-23 margin that will save public charters schools and create a long-term path for their success.

The vote comes on the heels of yesterday's bipartisan show of support in the House. The bill now heads to Gov. Jay Inslee's desk to be signed into law, finally putting to rest this last-ditch effort on the part of the state teacher's union and other stagnant education organizations to block charter schools from gaining a foothold in the state.

“We expect Gov. Inslee will respect the bipartisan legislature’s vote, respect the will of the voters, and most of all," said Tom Franta, CEO of the Washington State Charter Schools Association, "respect the parents and students who worked so hard for this victory today on behalf of not just their schools, but every kid statewide.”

Advocates mounted a powerful grassroots campaign which, coupled with a paid effort, called steadily on legislators to reinstate the 2012 law overturned by the State Supreme Court last fall.

More than 1,100 families already benefitting from public charter schools were joined by many more voices from Yakima to Walla Walla, Spokane to West Seattle, all advocating for equity in education.

The bill that passed today reflects that effort but does contain some clear compromises that differ from Initiative 1240. The bill eliminates charter school access to local levy monies, and it removes provisions authorizing the conversion of traditional public schools into charter schools.

Still, this bill's passage represents a resounding success for low-income families and families of color in Washington State. And we may see the charter school movement bloom even brighter for having gone survived this assault.

Many, many of those 1,100 students and parents and siblings became activists and advocates in recent months. At first it was simply a fight for themselves and their own schools, but they became part of something much bigger.

For all the dark sides this unconstitutionality business has evoked, and for all the ignorance and fear it has revealed, this is at least one glimmer of a silver lining. In the midst of its shadowy maneuvering, maybe the WEA and its fellow clingers-on to the status quo accidentally activated the Puget Sound's next generation of homegrown advocates for equity in education.

I hope they did. It would serve them right.

Second Bill to Save Charters Proposed in Washington State Legislature

A second bill to save charter schools was floated in the Washington State Senate yesterday.

Proposed by Sen. Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island) and Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-Renton), the bipartisan bill would use state lottery earnings to fund charter schools. It joins a bill proposed earlier this week by Sen. Andy Billig (D-Spokane) and Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) that would assign more control over charters to local elected school boards, giving the legislature at least two options to consider to save the state's charter schools during the January session.

As reported by John Higgins of the Seattle Times:

"Their proposal would, among other things, direct charter-school funding to come from the state’s Opportunity Pathways Account, which uses state lottery money for early childhood education, higher-education grants, scholarships and other programs aimed at innovation.
The Washington State Supreme Court ruled Sept. 4 that the charter-school law is unconstitutional because charter schools aren’t “common” schools and therefore aren’t entitled to public money exclusively intended for those schools.
Lottery revenue isn’t restricted to common schools, but the high court also ruled that lawmakers couldn’t use money from other general-fund accounts because the state can’t tell which dollars come from which sources."

This bill has garnered significantly more support from charter school proponents because it offers a pathway to save the entire charter school system without sacrificing control over operations.

“We applaud Sens. Litzow, Fain, Mullet, and Hobbs for their commitment to reinstate the will of the voters by fixing the mess that threatens to close public charter schools," said Tom Franta, CEO of the Washington State Charter Schools Association (WA Charters). "Today’s proposal demonstrates legislators' commitment to Washington families and students. We are especially pleased to see lawmakers from both sides of the aisle come together around a solution that maintains the ability of all parents in Washington—not just those in some districts—to choose the public school that best fits the needs of every child.”

Litzow has been a steadfast champion of charter schools.

“Public charter schools provide a meaningful opportunity for students—especially minority children from low-income families—who are disproportionately failed by Washington’s inequitable public school system,” said Litzow, chairman of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee, in his announcement of the bill yesterday. “Education quality—and inequality—is the paramount concern for students, parents, teachers and lawmakers, as well as voters, who made Washington the 42nd state to allow charter schools. No single reform will alone ensure we can meet Washington’s duty to provide a high-quality education to all children. Historic investments for public education in 2015, the expansion of charter schools and other research-based reforms supporting our most at-risk students will help close the state’s opportunity gap and strengthen the entire public education system.”

The proposed bill will receive a public hearing in the Senate Education Committee on Tuesday, Jan. 12, the second day of the 2016 legislative session, at 1:30 p.m.