State Supreme Court hears arguments on charter public schools; students rally in support of their schools

The state Supreme Court today heard oral arguments on (yet another) challenge to Washington’s charter public school law. As we wrote earlier, this is an appeal brought by intransigent opponents of charter schools, an appeal many of the state’s editorial boards urged the opponents to drop after they lost in King County Superior Court more than a year ago. 

The Associated Press reports on today’s hearing.

Teachers unions and other groups have sued over the 2016 charter school law, which lawmakers enacted after the justices struck down a 2012 voter-approved initiative that allowed charter schools for the first time in Washington.

The lawsuit argues that using public money to operate alternative, nonprofit charter schools over which voters have no direct control is forbidden by the state Constitution and diverts money needed by traditional public schools.

A King County Superior Court judge upheld the new charter school law, and the challengers appealed.

The groups challenging the law argue, again,
“These are private schools funded by public dollars,” [attorney Paul] Lawrence said.
Supporters counter,

“Charter schools serve at-risk students, some of whom — many of whom — are now excelling in a public school for the first time,” Rebecca Glasgow, an attorney for the state, argued.

Rob McKenna, the former state attorney general who is representing the association, disputed the notion that charters are private schools, noting that they’re free to attend and open to anyone. He described them as complementary to traditional schools, rather than as replacements for them, as Lawrence characterized them.

“It is simply not a requirement of the Constitution … that every form of public school have a school board,” McKenna said.

Among the other types of public school programs that lack direct voter oversight is Running Start, which allows high-school students to take classes at community and technical classes.

Last month, the Washington State Charter Schools Association released a statement on the then-upcoming hearing, It reads, in part,
On May 17, our student and family intervenors will be in Olympia as the Supreme Court hears arguments in the appeal of a legal challenge to Washington’s charter public school law, which was upheld by the King County Superior Court earlier this year. Washington’s charter law has now been approved by state voters, affirmed by the legislature, and upheld by the Superior Court. It is unique both in its strong accountability measures and in its emphatic focus on improving public education options for low-income, disadvantaged, and special needs students. A sizeable majority of students enrolled in Washington’s 10 operating charter public schools are students of color and from low-income households.
Today, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools said in a statement headed “1,500 charter students, teachers and parents gather in Olympia for Washington State Supreme Court Public Charter School hearing,” In part, it reads,

These schools are tuition-free, open to all students, approved and overseen by public bodies, and designed to serve the most underserved students in the state. Moreover, these schools are publicly accountable, subject to open meetings laws and public records laws, and held to high academic, legal, and fiscal standards…

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the National Center for Special Education in Charter Schools, and the League of Education Voters, supported by the National Charter School Legal Action Fund, filed a joint amicus brief before the Washington State Supreme Court, highlighting the broad public support for public charter schools and the families they serve in 43 states and the District of Columbia, including Washington State.

Opponents of the state’s public charter schools–namely, lobbyists who oppose charter public school options for students–have brought this litigation in an attempt to close schools and prevent additional charter schools from opening.

National Alliance president and CEO Nina Rees said,

“Today’s oral argument before the Washington State Supreme Court marks a critical moment for Washington charter school families and public education in Washington State. The national charter school community stands with the thousands of students and families who are currently benefiting from public charter schools–and the thousands more who stand to benefit in the future from high-quality public school options. Washington’s law is one of the strongest in the nation, and I am confident that it will prevail and ensure that public charter schools are options for generations of Washingtonians to come.”

 The AP quotes one of the students at the rally.

Jalen Johnson, an 11th-grader at Summit Sierra charter school in Seattle, told the crowd that the commitment of his teachers helped turn him from an average middle-school student who had little thought of attending college to a thriving high-school junior who hopes to study urban planning at the University of California at Berkeley.

“This is how every school should be,” he said. “Our success should be the norm, not the exception.”

Right. According to the AP, a decision is not expected for months.