Charters, School Finance Ruling All Mixed Up in Washington State

Last Updated: November 24, 2014

This article appeared in the November 2014 Rural Policy Matters.

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The Washington State Legislature is in contempt for failing to make progress toward rectifying the state’s school funding system. But being in contempt is not keeping state officials from referencing the Court’s funding order as a defense of the state’s charter law.

It’s a bit convoluted, but worth following.

In late 2012, Washington voters approved an initiative to allow charter schools in the state. Several months later, a coalition of organizations filed a lawsuit challenging the state’s charter school law on grounds that it unconstitutionally diverts public funding for schools to charter organizations that are not under public oversight.

That coalition includes the Washington Education Association, the Washington Association of School Administrators, the League of Women Voters, and El Centro de la Raza, along with parents, children, and other advocates.

Last December, King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel ruled that the charter school law could continue to be implemented. However, she also held that parts of the charter law were unconstitutional on grounds that charters are not “common” schools and therefore ineligible for certain types of funding, including funding for facilities.

According to a blog post in Education Week, State Assistant Attorney General Dave Stolier had argued that the Supreme Court in its school finance ruling had told the state “to innovate and change to meet the needs of Washington children.”

Both sides asked the state Supreme Court to directly review the case. In August of this year, the Court agreed to the review and scheduled it for October 28. The review was expected to focus on determining whether charter schools are considered common schools under state law. No further information about outcomes of the review was available when this RPM article was written.

Washington voters had declined several charter ballot initiatives prior to 2012, despite the presence of the pro-charter Gates Foundation. (See this infographic from Yes! magazine on the relationship between school privatization, charters, testing, Gates, and teacher salaries.)

We find it interesting that Washington State officials have fought the Court on funding traditional public schools yet references the same court order to defend spending on charters. The outcome of this review will be interesting to follow.

Read more:

Local coverage:

Finance contempt ruling:

Attorney General statement on 2013 charter ruling:

Hearing scheduled:

More information on the charter lawsuit:

National coverage:

yes! magazine infographic on privatization


Read more from the November 2014 Rural Policy Matters.