October 30, 2014

Washington's Supreme Court hears charter schools argument

By Meriem L. Hubbard Senior Attorney

On Tuesday, October 28, the Washington Supreme Court heard arguments about the constitutionality of the State’s voter-adopted charter schools law.  Although the opposition pursued a multifaceted assult on the charter schools law, the court focused on a single issue: money.

The State Constitution restricts the use of certain funds for the support of “common schools.”  So the question becomes whether or not charter schools are “common schools.”  Counsel for a coalition of teachers, parents and community groups, argued that, in the mid- to late-1800’s, the state’s founders and legislators emphasized the need for common schools that are open to all children, supported by local taxes, and controlled by an elected board of directors.

The State, and intervening supporters of charter schools, argued that the public school system has evolved to allow for innovative and flexible programs that better serve an increasingly diverse student populaton.  And the State already funds a variety of non-traditional programs for, among others, academically gifted students, at-risk youth, work-based learning, online courses, and special education.

The Justices questioned both sides about which dollars are restricted to regular public schools and which are not, and what that means for charter schools.  But there were no clear answers, making it impossible to guess how the Court will rule on the case.

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