Saturday, September 05, 2015

Following Up on the Charter School Law Ruling

One upside to the charter law news is that it take the blinding spotlight off the SPS and SEA negotiations over the teachers contract.  Here's hoping that the negotiating teams are finding common ground to open schools on Wednesday.

As for the charter law ruling, the Washington State Charter Schools Association had quite the statement yesterday(partial):

WA Charters is shocked and deeply disappointed with the State Supreme Court’s ruling, which rejected the public charter school law that voters approved in 2012—recognized as one of the strongest in the nation. The decision was based on a century-old precedent that said public charter schools cannot receive “common school” public funds because they are not overseen by elected boards.

I have to smile at the hubris of these people.  "Recognized as one of the strongest in the nation?"  By other charter orgs.  What they fail - again - to recognize is that it does NOT matter how "strong" or "good" the law is - it was found not constitutional.  That's not a small thing and it wasn't from the time they started down this road.

Unfortunately, the ruling comes weeks after eight new public charter schools started serving 1,200 excited students. The Court’s decision, made late Friday, did not specify what exactly will happen to the schools that are already open—and the students who attend them. Instead, the State Supreme Court justices sent the case back to the King County Superior Court “for an appropriate order.”

So that answers - somewhat - "what happens next?"  It goes back to KC Superior Court.  I suspect that it will be tough for the KC Court to say no to funding for the existing charter schools (and I mean the ones that were up and running last school year).  However, I think the Court will put itself in an untenable situation to try to fund any of the charters after the Supreme Court's ruling.

Along with legal experts, we are carefully reviewing the decision to determine how this ruling will be applied. Until we know more, every public charter school plans to be open on Tuesday, September 8, and we will do everything in our power to ensure that there is no disruption for the students currently enrolled in Washington’s public charter schools.

Let's hope they get better "legal experts" than they did last time because apparently their legal experts either knowing overlooked the WA state constitution or didn't understand what they were reading.

One suggestion about finding a way to keep those charters open - ask Bill Gates or Alice Walton.  

There are two legal options as I see it (but I'm no lawyer so chime in).  One, go to the US Supreme Court and ask for a stay.  I don't think the US Supremes will do this because there is no real federal constitutional issue and the state constitution is not violating any provision of the US constitution.  

Two, go to the Legislature for the money in an emergency capacity.  This is fraught with problems because the ire of the parents of hundreds of thousands of students in public schools that are not fully-funded.  As well, the Supreme Court is already fairly upset with the Legislature and might consider it a big throwdown if the Legislature should take that step.


Anonymous said...

I suspect that it will be tough for the KC Court to say no to funding for the existing charter schools (and I mean the ones that were up and running last school year).

Melissa, from what I understand, most charters which were new this year have already been operating for a few weeks. It seems to me that the court won't separate last year's schools from this year's if school is already in session.

From articles I've read, it sounds like most of this year's new charters got started via grants, and were expecting the first state operating funds to come in later in the month. So charters with extended resources such as out of state organizations like Summit might be able to keep their schools running in the short term? This is a guess not a statement. But homegrown independent charters such as First Place and the one in Spokane could be in dire straits this month as far as cash flow. I think.

I have no idea how to fix the disruption to charter kids already in school. I do hope the court finds a way to minimize the disruption. I agree that it is the charter organizations - and the charter commission's - fault for authorizing the schools to open prior to clarification from the court. Nevertheless, it pains me to think that a student might be yanked from a school community in the midst of a school year. I worked hard against Seattle school closures a few years ago and even that callous (by administration) process didn't propose immediate (same year) closure. If King County court finds a funding workaround for this year, even if it is coming from the general fund, I would be OK with that in the name of students. But then again, how would the schools realistically operate knowing their lifespan in most cases would only be a year? Would staff stay? Would the schools even buy all the materials needed THIS year? What a disaster for these families.


Gerry Pollet said...

Supreme Court strikes down charter schools in WA! Congrats, to WEA, Melissa and all who have been carrying the case of unconstitutionality.
In a sound and clear decision, the Court agreed that handing over public funding to schools which are not accountable to voters is unconstitutional. I can stop preparing legislation to end ridiculous dual role of the charter school commission as both booster and cheerleader and faux "regulator" of charter schools.
There is no escaping the reality that our state is failing to come close to fully funding public schools and providing each child in Washington with their constitutional rights to basic education with an adequately paid, well trained teacher in a classroom that isn't overcrowded.
Diverting state and local school levy money into a privately run school which caps enrollment, while the surrounding public schools get more overcrowded, hurts every other child's rights.
The 6 Justice majority get this right in saying the state can't be diverting school funds to charter schools, which even the 3 dissenters agree are not "common schools". Diverting general funds to privately run schools that are not part of, or accountable to, any elected school board or to the statewide elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, is diverting common school funds from our basic constitutional duty.
What will happen with the charter schools?
The reason why I say the charter school commission is not suited to be the regulator when it is also chief cheerleader for charter schools is illustrated by the fact that the board chair is quoted in the Times as saying they hadn't done anything to prepare for, or require charter schools to warn parents of, the obviously possible Supreme Court decision finding the initiative creating them unconstitutional. They were urged to have plans for the funding to be returned to the state and districts, with provision for students to be enrolled in their local school district, if desired. Because they were cheerleaders, not regulators, the commission kept its head in the sand.
Here's the link if you'd like to read the Court opinion for yourself:

Anonymous said...

Andrew Carnegie built public libraries, Walton and Gates can certainly afford to pay for the charter schools. 20 million a year to fund charter schools, they pay more to an alphabet of astroturf political lobby groups like it's nothing.


Anonymous said...

Steve Sundquist, who Pollet above didn't call out by name, is the head of the charter commission. As with his failure to fully oversee the massive administrative problems with Seattle Schools when he was school board president, he once again on this state commission was all about looking president-ish and not so much about listening, especially to those with whom he has no commonality. The little people. Now he and his charter chums have gotten the hubris check they deserved. As usual, he and the charter booster organizations (B&M Gates, Stand on Children, DFER) tried to run roughshod over the PUBLIC part of public schools. Having money and connections does not make one an expert on what works in public education. Apparently it doesn't make one more well-versed in the court system either. No plan for what to do with the students already attending charters? Perhaps he and the other charter commission members can supply their home phone numbers to be personally of service to the families they claimed to "help" but in fact have disadvantaged through their hubris.


Watching said...

Per The Seattle Times:

"The attorney for the plaintiffs, Paul Lawrence, doesn’t think there’s much more legal work to do on the issue. But he acknowledged that much has to be sorted out regarding the nine charter schools that are already up and running.

“The bottom line is that the initiative is unconstitutional so the charter schools that were authorized under the charter-school initiative can’t be publicly funded,” Lawrence said. “If there’s any avenue, it’s going to be through some act of the Legislature.”

Chair of the State Charter Commission Steve Sundquist:

"Washington State Charter School Commission Chair Steve Sundquist said that commissioners anticipated a range of possible outcomes affecting funding, but didn’t draw up a plan to deal with a complete reversal.

“We were not expecting a ruling as deeply disappointing as this one,” Sundquist said."

The state's Attorney General's office is reviewing the opinion.

Some legislators are furious and wringing their hands. They claim the Wa. State Supreme Court made a hard left turn.

I fully expect some legislators to focus on dissenting opinions and attempt an end-run, and I expect a fight to continue.

At this point, state funding should not be provided to charter schools.

It is worth noting that LEV is sitting on millions of dollars for charter school expansion. Try putting those dollars for direct student supports.

Anonymous said...

Does Steve Sundquist earn a salary as head of the charter commission? If so, he sure was overpaid.
S parent

Anonymous said...

Good point about Sundquist, DistrictWatcher.

Can whatever comes next please not include Sundquist at the helm? He's zero for two - district and state level - at this point in 'wise' leadership. Either that or he's now qualified for a federal education position. LOL.


And @ Watching: the court pointed to problems with charters v the state constitution. How will legislators do an end run around the constitution? The charters passed so narrowly that amending the constitution itself seems unlikely. What sort of legislation could be passed to allow charters to continue? They'd have to operate like the rest of public schools. Do they want to do that? Doubt it.

Anonymous said...

@NNNCr, I was thinking about Carnegie too.

Did Andrew Carnegie's libraries deduct money from the community's library budget for each book that was in a Carnegie library? With Carnegie making an occasional grant (sometimes, but no promises) on top of the public funding, to make it economic for the library to be run by his choice of an independent operator? And did he put big dollars into political campaigns and nonprofits to advocate for his plan?

No I don't think that's how it worked.


Anonymous said...

Latest from Washington Policy Center:

WPC calls on Legislature to protect the charter school education of 1,300 children from the unjust decision of the state Supreme Court

Yesterday afternoon the state Supreme Court, in a 6-3 decision, announced its decision to hold unconstitutional Washington’s charter school law, passed by voters in 2012. Based on a narrow, technical reading of the charter school law, and a misunderstanding of education appropriations, the state Supreme Court has held that charter schools will receive no public funds. This decision cuts off public funding to the nine charter schools that have either already started school or will open next week.

The ruling becomes effective in 20 days, after a motion for reconsideration to the court. We have learned that Washington's 9 charter schools will remain open until then.

Exhausted Mind

Anonymous said...

Link to Washington State Charter School Commission

Emphasis on Innovation and Transparency (No mention of Reality or Legality)

Next Commission meeting:

Sept. 17, 2015 Thursday at 10 AM


Commission Meeting
Thu, September 17, 10am – 5pm

STAR Center Voyage Studio 3873 S 66th Street Tacoma, WA 98409

Should be quite the 7 hr voyage ... but unlike Gilligan's 3 hour tour.

Exhausted Mind

Watching said...


Not sure. Paul Lawrence indicated that any change would come from the legislature.

The Washington State Charter School Association as begun organizing. They are asking charter school parents to provide testimonials. Then, we have pro-charter school legislators that are furious and Washington Policy Center pushing for legislative action.

Anonymous said...

Looking at each of the Charter School Commissioners HERE

it is really hard to believe this group did not formulate in advanced any plans for yesterday's Supreme court decision, unless they were mostly cheerleaders for the charter movement.

Should be an interesting meeting on Sept. 17.

Exhausted Mind

Anonymous said...

@ Watching: The very first point of the ruling, which I've read, says the decision has nothing to do with the merits pro/con of charters. So parent testimony about how great their barely running schools are is moot. If they put pressure on legislature to rework the law and they can get it through the legislature, which seems questionable, then fine. But that means local control through districts of these schools and what community is going to be fine with charters that get fat grants from the Reformies, get to limit class sizes, get to hide financials, get to have buildings during facility shortages (Seattle) and on and on. Charters wanted their cake - public dollars - and getting to eat it too - none of the downsides of scrutiny and bureaucracy. It's not going to fly with the constitution or the communities or I suspect the full legislature IMHO.

And if Inslee thinks he can limp waffle on this as he has done with every other education problem he will be publicly called out by many here and elsewhere I hope.


Melissa Westbrook said...

I suspect someone in the Legislature may attempt to help (if only to appease Gates) but I cannot see how it could happen since the Court has said they are not legally entitled to public dollars.

About the Charter Commission - the ONE thing that I have been firm on is that these members are hard-working, smart people who, at every turn, tried to protect students/parents and taxpayers. Steve Sundquist may be many things but he has a been a good, level-headed leader on the Commission. The staff is fantastic.

That said, their assigned lawyer from the state AG's office has never impressed me and I have no idea if she ever warned them about what the possible outcome could be in the Supreme Court and its ramifications to the charter school system. I have attended many meetings but never heard this discussion.

Yes, that Charter Commission meeting should be interesting. Not sure I have can make it.

Anonymous said...

No Charters,

I am against charters. How would giving citizens local control be any different than what we have now (or had until yesterday)? With the Initiative that was passed (by the citizens) don't they have now what you are saying they will want under local control?

Or are you thinking that it will be district-by-district where they will be accepted?

Playing devil's advocate here,


Anonymous said...

I have an idea. Let's continue to shove every dollar into an education system that is broken and continually fails to meet the needs of our children. Let's resist change and hold onto ideals established in 1909. That way we can ensure we keep doing the same thing, producing the same poor results (as in a 34% drop out rate in the state of Washington.) Let's keep complaining that teachers don't make enough money and blame all our failures on that. Let's force kids, whose parents pay the same taxes as everyone else, to move into private schools because the public system fails them. Let's continue to accept a public school response like the one I got: "Would you rather have your son fail in the first year of middle school or in fifth grade (on advocating to discontinue using his tutor which was inflating his test scores, therefore disqualifying him from an IEP to allow him access to the individualized help we were paying for by using a tutor. They actually needed him to fail before they would qualify him for what he needed.) Yes this all seems acceptable to me. Ditch the charter schools and any other potential idea that might possibly be better than the miserable system we currently have.


Watching said...

Ed Murray:

“We need to understand what this means for the children who would start at the three impacted schools in Seattle,”

Steve Litow:

"public charter schools provide high-quality opportunity, especially for at-risk children, to succeed in the classroom. In a state that fails one in four students, disproportionately from low-income and minority families, we cannot afford to do away with one of the most important tools for closing the opportunity gap.”

We've not heard from the governor's office, but Washington State Charter School Association is calling for a special session.

Charter school operators chose to open- knowing that I 1240 was in the court system.

Anonymous said...

Look who's on the board of the WA Charters School Association. This is the lobbying group not the state commission overseeing the opening and operating of schools. Never bothered to look at this group before today but worth watching to see who will try to swing their weight around the ruling. Hello DFER head Lisa Macfarlane. Hello LEV head Chris Korsmo. These people spent years paving the way for WA charters. Didn't Korsmo take pols down to California? They and their organizations won't be going down without a well-funded fight.


Anonymous said...

Do you think they rushed to open and enroll students so they would have hostages for the Supreme Court decision? That would be vile.

Anonymous said...

Frustrated Parent,
I understand your anger. The Seattle system is extremely frustrating, with a bloated central staff giving themselves raises while your child is not being served.

Our sons were in both private and public schools. Neither approach was perfect but we found caring teachers in both systems. Some of our friends found public schools a better fit for their children than private ones.

My concern about charter schools is that they can counsel out those students who need extra help. If struggling students are the only ones left in public schools, will taxpayers still support them?

The outsourcing of education bothers me.

S parent

Anonymous said...

"Do you think they rushed to open and enroll students so they would have hostages for the Supreme Court decision? That would be vile."

Vile, yet, on its face, what they did. Neo-liberal sharks don't care how many little fish they chew up.

Scrawny Kayaker

Watching said...

The Washington State Charter Association, which is comprised of the usual individuals i.e. MacFarlane, Korsmo, Spady, Binder and others, are working around the clock. The campaign has begun.

Meanwhile, Liv Finne of the Washington Policy Center as gone off the rails. Here is her latest piece.

Some are calling for the governor to convene a special session. The state has failed to fund education and we've not seen any attempts at a special session. Convening a special session would be for those with special interests. Write the governor.

Joe Wolf said...

S Parent - I work in the central office. I have not had either a raise nor a COLA in my (so far) 3 1/2 years of employment at SPS.

Can I ask how you define "bloated" ... is staffing/organizational theory your professional specialty?

Greenwoody said...

We who support this decision can't just rest on the fact that the court gave us a big win - and made the right choice. We have to continue working and organizing to prevent the legislature from reversing this win.

These charter schools are now no different from a private school. Whether it's First Place, or Destiny, or Summit, or whatever - they are exactly the same as Lakeside or Bishop Blanchet. They're privately owned and operated schools that have no claim or justification to receive public funds.

As far as the court is concerned, and as far as the rest of us are concerned, those charter schools can stay open. But they cannot use public money to do so. It is especially offensive for them to cry to the legislature when those same charter school supporters have urged the legislature to ignore the McCleary decision and not fully fund our K-12 public schools. The Gates Foundation, the Walton Foundation, LEV, and others have millions of dollars at their disposal that can be used to pay the operating costs of the existing charter schools. They, not the legislature, should be the ones being asked to kick in money for charters.

The enemies of public education are going to go all-out to try and make us feel bad for these kids in these charter schools, even though it was extremely irresponsible of the charter commission and the charter operators to open those schools when the Supreme Court's ruling was pending. We can't ignore their response. We have to push back.

Charter schools are private schools. They have no business getting any public funds. If those schools want to stay open, they should hit up the wealthy backers who convinced them to open in the first place. It would be offensive and unconstitutional for those schools to get money when everyone else is still waiting for the legislature to fully fund McCleary.

Anonymous said...

Greenwoody for the win.
Write your legislator and especially write to the governor. This weekend before the schools open next week.


Watching said...

Lisa Macfarlane of DFER responds to Supreme Court ruling:

The trend is to shift blame to Supreme Court. No one wants to take responsibility for opening a charter school before Supreme Court issued opinion.

Katherine Binder has contributed $100K to DFER's PAC and I have learned she sits on the Washington State Carter School Association. Not surprising.

Anonymous said...

Frustrated Parent--Well put. Looking for new solutions should not be construed as not supporting all kids. I believe we have a lot of great teachers in this city, but the public school system is broken in so many ways. Working for change is imperative but will take so long that my own child will never benefit. So we'll work to help future generations. In the meantime, I homeschooled my child through middle school. Now here we are back in the system and no school today. Maybe I'll break out the books on the dining room table again today.

Disappointed Mom