I've been talking a lot about charter schools lately and both Charlie and I have been speculating what will happen to them due to the Supreme Court's final ruling that the Washington State charter law is unconstitutional. But I did have an epiphany this morning as the thunder woke me up.
(I'll again state - I'm not a lawyer but I think the issue has been made clear by the Court.)
It's really just three days left that charter schools in the state of Washington will exist as charter schools. How do I know this?
One, Monday the 14th is the likely cut-off date for state funding for the schools themselves AND their authorizers. (I think I understand that the charters have enough state money to finish their December school month.) If a charter school has no state funding and no state oversight, under the current charter law, it's not a charter school. And, to boot, there is no charter law left.
Two, the Supreme Court struck down the ENTIRE law. There's a new video out by state senator Joe Fain where he explains the Supreme Court decision. To his credit, he gets it mostly right but then, at the end, glibly tries to explain how the legislature can "fix" it.
In the video, he explains that the Court could have ruled on the case and separated out the funding issue while still allowing the rest of the law to stand. But they didn't. They said no to the whole thing because (I think) they believed that if the funding isn't there, nothing else could stand either.
That is the crux of the situation.
Now the students surely do need educational services. What the charters - all of them apparently, according to the Charter Commission's Executive Director, Joshua Halsey - are choosing is to guide their students to an ALE program yet to be set up in Mary Walker School District. MWSD will get the state funding to run the program and, in turn, "hire" the charter school staffs to implement the teaching and learning.
That makes those charter "schools" into tutoring services. They may have the same name but they are not charter schools. And, how they will provide those teaching and learning services remains to be seen. It's not going to matter that they get state funding for those services; it doesn't make them charter schools.
Even though this seems clear to me, I'm still a bit baffled and a little disturbed.
So OSPI goes thru this elaborate set-up for a tiny district to grow - on paper - its student population by more than double. Former "charter schools" will organize the teaching and learning and be paid by the district for those services. This is to go on for about 6-8 weeks into January and February.
The Legislature convenes on January 11, 2016 and I have little doubt that there will be a bill sitting there on day one to fund these "charter schools" until the end of the school year. But that raises a whole host of questions:
- where will the money come from to fund them? I'm guessing it's at least $10-12M. What state-funded department/service gets its funding cut?
- will that money fund the authorizers? Maybe. Or maybe OSPI would just oversee them, given it is just until the end of this school year. Or the Legislature could allow Spokane SD and the Charter Commission to oversee their schools but, of course, there would be no authorizing of new schools as, again, the entire law was thrown out.
- what if the bill either doesn't get to the floor for a vote or, if it does, is voted down? I would assume that would mean the students stay on their ALE program until the end of the school year or some of them may choose to leave for other types of schools.
But if the students do have to stay on their ALE program until the end of the school year because the legislative funding doesn't come thru, then, once again, the charter schools and their supporters have gambled with these students' academic lives and lost.
The ALE program will not be what was advertised for those students. In fact, if carried out like most ALEs, it will be almost completely different from what the students are currently doing.
Funding these "schools" until the end of the school year - if that is the ONLY goal - is laudable. But if OSPI has already found a solution, why would this be a necessary thing for the Legislature to do?
Even if the money comes thru from the Legislature, they will just be lame-duck charter schools because the law no longer exists. For them to go on, there would need to be a new charter law.
Perhaps that may happen, there could be one being drafted as we speak. But that would be a very heavy lift for a short legislative session.
It's a dizzying amount of work for OSPI, MWSD and staff at these charter schools along with stress, frustration and uncertainty for the charter school families.
That's the irony. If charter supporters had written a constitutional law in the first place, none of this would be happening. They were told before the election and after the election that it wasn't constitutional but they had to hear it from the state Supreme Court.
And, in the end, their schools will be closed as charter schools. It's a sad thing all around that did not have to happen.