Washington State Charter School Updates

With the Growth Boundaries, 20-Minutes added to the school day, changes to the Student Assignment Plan, Cedar Park, etc, I have found nary the time to write about charter schools in Washington State.  But finally, here it is.
Washington State Charter School Commission
Today, the Commission issued the annual New Charter School application for schools that wish to open in Fall 2018.
The Washington State Charter School Commission begins its new round of charter school authorization with the release of the New Charter School Application on Tuesday, December 6, 2016. This year, successful applicants will have the opportunity to access U.S. Department of Education Charter School Program (CSP) grant, a grant administered through the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI). CSP grant funds are designed to support the development and growth of new, high-quality charter public schools across the state. 
Oh right, that would be the huge kiss of money that got put into ESSA for charter schools.  It will be interesting if that money gets sustained as the voucher crowd jockeys for money.  (To note the voucher crowd would also like to take money from Title One dollars.)

The WSCSC process is a six-month one that ends on June 29, 2017 with the announcement of authorization of new charter schools.  The Notice of Intent to Apply is Feb. 17, 2017.

Charter School law lawsuit
In August, 2016, a lawsuit was brought against the new charter school law approved by the Legislature in the spring.  Those suing included the WEA, the League of Women Voters, El Centro de la Raza and other labor groups like the Washington State Labor Council.  The lawsuit also includes Washington state public school parents.

The plaintiffs say that the new law does not really address the underlying issue of funding that was used when the Washington State Supreme Court threw out the first charter school law.  Namely, that public dollars are still being used for alternative schools that voters have no say in which violates the Washington State Constitution.

From the WEA:
The new law also violates the constitution by reducing the authority of the elected Superintendent of Public Instruction to oversee publicly funded schools.
I would add that the law also appears to violate Article 3, Section 22 of the Constitution because it does not clearly address that defined role for the State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Charter supporters roundly decried the lawsuit.
The state’s Charter School Commission, which authorizes charter schools, said it was “profoundly disappointed” the case had been filed, and the Washington State Charter Schools Association, a nonprofit that promotes the schools, said it would seek to intervene.
In what is a never-ending theme, the Washington Charter Schools Association says that there are political motivations for the suit.  I would counter that there are also political motivations to having charter schools.

In what seems to be a coordinated effort (either that or a massive education mind meld), there have been several op-eds in newspapers throughout the state criticizing the lawsuit. 

The first round of op-eds have been by charter school parents saying the plaintiffs were trying to hurt their children.  That's an emotional argument which really doesn't belong in a court case but if you are attempting to try the case in the court of public opinion, maybe.

In November 2016, King County Superior Court Judge John H. Chun dismissed two of the primary arguments against charter schools in the lawsuit.  Chun said several of the plaintiffs had no standing in the case (those were the non-union groups and the parents.)   As well, he rejected the tie in the lawsuit to the underfunding of schools in general to charter schools.  From the Times:
He also decided not to consider a challenge of the way the schools kept themselves afloat financially last year while they waited for the Legislature to find a political solution after they lost a previous lawsuit. 
However, if you examine the ruling, things are not as clear-cut as charter supporters might think.

- nothing stops the plaintiffs from finding more plaintiffs that better suit this case
- the Court dismissed the claim based on ample funding and McCleary as speculative and theoretical.  I think given that the Supreme Court doesn't believe the outcomes without McCleary are "speculative and theoretical," we can just wait and see.
-  the issue of charters as ALEs when the first charter law was overturned was dismissed.  That doesn't mean that it was done correctly and I think the State Auditor might weigh in on that one.

Later editorials are like the one in the Columbian:
Charter schools — and the students they serve — deserve an opportunity to grow and thrive as a reasonable alternative to traditional schools.

Students, parents, administrators and, yes, even teachers in Washington would be better served if the focus remained on funding K-12 education while allowing the charter-school experiment to play out on its own.
First, if the people who want charter schools could just write a constitutional charter law , they could have this "alternative."  It's fascinating that just yesterday we learned that State Senator Michael Baumgartner (R) dropped a bill to completely change that section of the Constitution so that it would support charter schools.  

Next, getting the funding for K-12 is vastly important but question: how come the charter schools and their groups have not lifted a public finger to help for money they want? (I can scarcely attend a Washington Charter School Commission meeting where charters schools are not whining about not having enough money.)

It appears that a ruling may come sooner than later in this case because of the unfortunate timing of the first charter law ruling by the Supreme Court right at the start of the school year.


NO 1240 said…
I have to wonder why the Charter Commission would open more schools. SB 6194 lacks local and elected oversight, and the role of SPI is questionable.

Dorn will soon be out of office (thank goodness!!) and I don't believe SPI elect will go along with an ALE scheme.

There are many many documents filed related to this case. I don't think the issue of "standing" is done.
Anonymous said…
I can't help but wonder, now that Charter schools are essentially Trump schools, if that will provide additional motivation for the Supreme Court to strike down this law. Granted it would not be overtly referenced in the decision, but anyone who supports actual public education can help but be alarmed by how the federal government might undermine and destroy public education over the next 4 years -- better to shield the state from disastrous federal policy.

--Keep Them Public
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