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Wayne Au, a professor at the University of Washington, explains why the Washington Supreme Court declared charter schools unconstitutional and why this decision has national implications.
The Court’s decision, he writes, was a “major rebuke” to the charter industry (and to Seattle’s richest resident, Bill Gates, who plunked millions into the 2012 referendum allowing charter schools, which passed by 50.69% of the vote).
At the heart of the Washington State’s Supreme Court ruling was the idea that charter schools, as defined by the law, were not actually “public schools.” The key issue is this: Washington State’s constitution has a provision that only “common schools” receive tax dollars allocated for public education. The law in Washington State is structured so that charter schools are governed at both the school level and state level by an appointed board, not an elected one. As such, charter schools in Washington State would receive public monies without any guarantee of accountability to any democratically elected, public body. The Washington State Supreme Court decided that this lack of public oversight of charter schools meant that did not meet the definition of “common schools” and therefore are not eligible to receive public monies made available for public schools.
Au was a plaintiff in the lawsuit; before that, he frequently spoke and wrote about the dangers that privately managed charter schools pose to public education. He understood that they are a precursor to privatization and a direct threat to community responsibility for public schools for all children.
As background, he points out that the Washington Supreme Court had previously ordered the legislature to fully fund the state’s public schools and is fining the legislature $100,000 a day for its failure to do so (since August 15).
Charter school supporters are furious about the Court’s decision and are now trying to persuade the legislature to create a separate funding stream for charter schools. Au asks how this make sense: Why should the legislature create a separate fund for charters enrolling 1,300 students when it has not properly funded public schools enrolling 1 MILLION students?