Charter School Establishment in the Washington State

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In November 2012, citizens of Washington voted to approve Initiative 1240 (I-1240) which “provided for the establishment of up to 40 charter schools within 5 years” in the state of Washington. Washington was the only state in the US to have their charter school measure approved through ballot—as opposed to all other states gaining approval through state legislature. The ballot measure was largely due to pushback by statewide teachers’ unions and other opposing collective who sought petitions signatures to take the vote out of the hands of the state legislature and put it directly into the hands of the people. Their method worked because after they gained enough petition signatures to move the vote to the ballot, the measure to create charter schools in Washington state failed three times on the voting ballot. The measure was only approved by narrow margins after millions of dollars of support and campaigning poured in from wealthy school choice supporters.

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The 2012 hand down of legislature charter school law was a landmark event for the state of Washington. “Washington in 2012 was one of the last states to set up a charter school law, though it was among the first to try to institute the education model,” according to an AP News article.

Initiative 1240 came about as a way to “provide parents with more options” as it pertains to the schooling of their children. Under the Act, charter schools were designated as public “common school[s] open to all children free of charge.” According to the Washington Policy Center, “After the November vote, the Washington Education Association teachers union, school administrators association and other groups that had opposed the passage of Initiative 1240 said they intended to challenge the law in court.” The celebration by some was short-lived because the case became tied up in the Washington State Supreme court over funding issues. Those very funding issues are at the heart of my case, El Centro de la Raza v. Washington State.

Prior to El Centro v. Washington State, a modified version of legislate known as the Charter School Act was adopted with amendments as a means of curing its “constitutional deficits.” There were four issues raised in this case: “(a)Does the 2016 Charter School Act violate article IX, section 2’s “general and uniform” requirement?; (b) Article IIII, section 22 by delegating the superintendent’s supervisory role to the charter school commission?; (c) Article IX, section 2 by diverting restricted state funds to support charter schools?,” and finally, “(d) Article II, section 37 by revising the state collective bargaining laws and the Basic Education Act of 1977?”

For point A, the court ruled that “The Act does NOT violate article IX, section 2’s general and uniform system of public schools.” According to the court, a “general and uniform system…is… one in which every child in the state has free access to …reasonably standardized educational and instructional facilities and opportunities to at least the 12th grade — a system administered with … uniformity which enables a child to transfer from one district to another within the same grade without substantial loss of credit or standing.” Appellants argued that even if there was not a restriction placed on the type of schools created in Washington state by the legislature, because each school is required to conform to the standards of a “general and uniform system of public schools,” this act is unconstitutional because charter schools simply do not. Regardless, the court opposed their view.

For point B, the court ruled, “Article IX, section 2 does NOT limit the legislature’s authority to create non-common-schools that provide a general education and are open to all students.” Appellants of the case argued that when the constitution for the state of Washington was written, schools has taught specialized programs to specialized populations. The court, however, found unconstitutionality only in the fact that legislature had incorrectly designated charter schools as public schools and therefore was funding them with money that, constitutionally, belonged to true common schools such as high schools and technical schools.

For point C, the court found that “the Act does not violate article III, section 22 by delegating the superintendent’s supervisory role to the Washington State Charter School Commission.” Appellants and even Justice Wiggins of the court argued that the Act “deprives the superintendent of his supervisory power over charter schools.” This is due to the fact that the Washington State Charter School Commission essentially acts as the board of a regular, public school district to monitor the performance and operation of schools. The WSCSC is composed of 11 members, but the justices found that the existence of a board did not hinder or deprive the role of the superintendent.

The three prior points of this case were important, but not nearly as much as point D which has to do with the funding of Washington State charter schools, which is the precise reason this case exists. The court would ultimately find that, “The Act does not violate article IX, section 2 by diverting restricted common school funds to support charter schools,” but not without a hard-fought battle by the appellants. According to the Google Scholar case writeup, “Article IX, section 2 protects funding for common schools by requiring that ‘the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.” But appellants sited that when the state constitution was written, there was a common school fund that is now just a general fund and because of that, “'[t]here is no way to track the restricted common school funds or to ensure that these dollars are used exclusively to support the common schools.’

Legislation now delegates that charter schools are funded by the Opportunity Pathways Account (OPA) which is funded by lottery revenue. Right here is where I felt it perfect to ask my three most prominent questions of this case which are:

  1. In your opinion, should charter schools use “general fund” money which is available to all other schools or OPA money which comes from lottery revenue but supports other educational programs as well? Both? Why one but not the other?
  2. Why is Washington establishing a charter school law so important?
  3. What are the potential long-term benefits or disadvantages of the charter school system and what sort of systematic changes/benefits/effects might Washington see as a result of their implementation and subsequent law?

Appellants argued that charter school costs are rising, and they will exhaust the OPA forcing them to revert back to the general fund. As more charter schools arise, they will use a greater portion of the OPA which also supports scholarships and early education programs. Legislature will then use thee general fund to supplement funding for non-charter school programs currently relying on thee OPA, in which there is no authority prohibiting them from doing so. Nonetheless, the court found those to be speculative matters.

In a 4-2 split, the following ruling would be handed down: “It is not the province of this court to express favor or disfavor of the legislature’s policy decision to create charter schools. Rather, our limited role is to determine whether the enacted legislation complies with the requirements of our state constitution. We conclude that its only unconstitutional provision is severable, and thus we affirm the trial court in part and hold that the remainder of the Charter School Act is constitutional on its face.”

Rachel Campos-Duffy, television personality, said, “Charter schools in particular have proven a lifeline for millions of children stuck in chronically failing schools.” In my opinion, charter schools—whether through voucher or free attendance— historically provide the most benefit to low-income, minority students who may have otherwise attended under-resourced, underfunded, significantly disadvantaged schools that would have handicapped the vast majority of students educationally by decreasing their likelihood of success in post-secondary institutions as well as limiting their economic success, growth, and mobility potential because of their lackluster education. Because of those facts and more, this case relates to social justice issues in education, the epicenter of our class.  

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