Not enough private funding to keep charter schools open? Some advocates question ruling, court’s role in education.

Despite earlier statements suggesting the state’s nine charter schools would stay open through the school year after losing public funding, it now appears the immediate future is much less certain. The News Tribune reports not enough private money has been raised to keep all nine running. 

Following a state Supreme Court ruling in September that invalidated Washington’s charter school law, the [Washington State Charter Schools Association] had expressed confidence it would be able to raise an estimated $14 million in donations to keep the schools running for a year.

But in a motion filed Wednesday with the Supreme Court, the association appears to be backing down from that confidence as it makes a plea for continued public funding for the remainder of the school year.

As we’ve written, the charter school have received the first of a series of payments they were scheduled to receive. That’s because while the court decision is under appeal it is not final and the charter school law remains in effect. We have also written about Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s appeal of the court decision and former state Supreme Court Justice and state Senator Phil Talmadge’s criticism of the decision.

A previous post cited national reaction to the court’s action. To that we add Terry Ryan’s post on the Thomas B. Fordham Institute web site.  Ryan formerly directed the Institute’s Ohio office. He writes,

The court’s argument for declaring charters illegal hinged on a 1909 decision as to what constitutes a “common school.” Specifically, the court held that charter schools violate the uniformity clause of the state’s constitution because charters are not common schools controlled by local school boards. And, the court maintained, they unconstitutionally divert funds from common schools. This decision broke with legal precedents set in other states. An analysis by the law firm Jones Day showed, “Washington’s constitution shares many similarities with those in Ohio, Michigan, California, and Colorado, where similar constitutional challenges were raised and rejected.”

The court’s decision is not only out of sync with what’s happening nationally, it’s also counter to earlier Washington State Supreme Court decisions.

He also notes the Court’s earlier intervention into school funding, the McCleary decision, and the unprecedented step of holding the state in contempt.

When the Washington State Legislature raised state funding in Washington by a little less than $1 billion in 2014 [much more in 2015], the court found the state in contempt. It said lawmakers had failed to make enough progress to meet the state’s “paramount” duty to amply fund schools. This decision resulted in the state’s five living ex-governors filing a joint brief urging the justices to exercise restraint. Current Democratic Governor Jay Inslee told reporters that the court’s move to micromanage the budget would be “fraught with enormous peril.”

Pointing out that in previous decades state courts actively involved themselves in legislative affairs when it came to education, the tide has turned. And now, Washington’s court is bucking the tide.

State courts across the country are turning away from school funding lawsuits and leaving such decisions to the legislative and executive branches of state government to decide. While the 1980s and 1990s were a period of significant court action per school adequacy lawsuits, according to legal scholar Jessica Burns, “Courts have recently rejected such litigation in an attempt to broaden the demarcation between the judiciary and the legislature.”


Meanwhile lawmakers continue to struggle with the McCleary. House Republican Leader Dan Kristiansen, R-Snohomish, recently discussed local levy reform in his newsletter

Many of my colleagues in the Legislature, Republican and Democrat, believe the time has come to address the issue of school levy reform. The local school levy is one of the most regressive taxes in Washington, where areas of the state with the lowest property values pay the highest amount of property taxes, while areas with rich property values, such as Seattle and Bellevue, pay less than 30 percent of the median tax rate…

One of the solutions under consideration is the so-called “levy swap,” which would implement a revenue-neutral swap of state property tax for local levies. A levy swap is a
means of allocating significant new state funding toward K-12 basic education obligations by lowering local maintenance and operating levies while simultaneously increasing state revenues. The idea isn’t necessarily to grow the pot of money available, but rather to shift the source of the dollars from local school districts to the state.

He acknowledges that several proposals remain under consideration, while offering an example of how it might work. Although the idea has been kicked around for several years without gaining broad bipartisan support, it remains in play.