January 27, 2016

Hope for Washington's charter schools

By Ethan W. Blevins Attorney

National School Choice Week has special meaning this year in Washington, where lawmakers are fighting to save Washington’s charter schools. In 2012, Washington voters passed the state’s first charter school act. The state then approved numerous charter school applications, and the new schools prepared to open their doors in 2015. But just as the school year began, the Supreme Court of Washington struck down the charter school act. Now, however, state legislators have proposed two bills that would redeem the charter schools.

The bills would fix the two main problems that the Court found with the charter school act. The Supreme Court had held that the act violated the state’s constitution by dipping into special “common school” funds reserved for traditional public schools. The Court said that charter schools couldn’t use the reserved funds because, unlike most public schools, they aren’t run by local school boards. The Court then decided that the act dips its hand into the common school fund, even though the act didn’t specify where charter school funding comes from.

The first bill, Senate Bill 6194, would fix the funding issue by guaranteeing that charter school money flows from a fund that doesn’t contain any common school cash. The second bill would draw charter schools into the common school fold by placing them under the control of school boards.

The first solution is best because it preserves the independence of charter schools. If placed under school board control, charter schools would lose much of the flexibility needed to innovate and offer diverse educational choices for families. Senate Bill 6194, which would fix the funding issue while retaining charter school independence, just passed the Senate on the eve of National School Choice Week. Now it will advance to the House. Washington’s kids deserve this second chance at choice.

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