State Supreme Court won’t reconsider decision on charter schools. Attention now turns to the Legislature to preserve valuable reform

The state Supreme Court announced yesterday that it would not reconsider its decision that the state’s charter school law is unconstitutional. The ruling is a significant setback for proponents of public charter schools, for education reform, and for the students who thrive in charters. As the Seattle Times reports, the justices did remove a footnote but left the original ruling otherwise intact.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson was among those asking for reconsideration. As part of that, he wanted the court to remove a footnote that he said unnecessarily raised questions about other educational programs the state funds, such as Running Start.

In that footnote, the justices argued that charter schools violated the state’s constitutional requirement to provide “a general and uniform system of public schools” because charter schools aren’t governed by elected boards.

The court agreed without further explanation to remove that footnote, but otherwise its decision stands.

Attention now turns to the Legislature, which will be pressed to find an alternative. Again from the Seattle Times:

“While the court declined to revisit its holding regarding charter-school funding, it is now up to the Legislature to decide whether to adopt a different mechanism to fund charter schools,” Ferguson said Thursday.

State Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, said he will keep pushing for such a fix.

The Court was divided on the decision not to reconsider, as it was on the original ruling.

The Associated Press reports

Nine charter schools have opened in the state under the conditions of the 2012 law. They have continued to receive state funding, pending the court’s decision on the request for reconsideration.

Supporters of charter schools say they will find the money to keep those schools open this year even when state dollars stop flowing toward the independent public schools.

Hundreds of charter school students, parents and educators were in Olympia on Thursday to hold a rally outside the state Capitol and testify before a joint meeting of the Senate Education and Senate Ways & Means committees to encourage lawmakers to find a way to save their schools. The hearing ended before the Supreme Court decision was issued.

Also, good story on the decision and the rally in Olympia in The News Tribune.

This statement from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools makes the right point.

Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released the following statement in reaction to the Washington State Supreme Court’s ruling on the constitutionality of the state’s public charter school law:

“We are shocked by and deeply disappointed in the Washington State Supreme Court’s wrongheaded and ill-advised decision that the state’s public charter school law is unconstitutional. Notwithstanding the Court’s dubious legal gymnastics, it is unimaginable that public charter schools – legal in every state where the question has ever been raised – have been deemed unconstitutional in Washington.

While the Court has turned its back on the tens of thousands of students in the state who need more high-quality public school options, we stand behind the many advocates that fought for this law and will support them in any way we can. If new laws or constitutional amendments are necessary, we are ready to lend whatever help we can to get them passed.

Nationwide, more than 1 million names are on charter school wait lists because charter schools have proven successful, particularly for those students who traditionally have had few options. Washington State’s students deserve these same educational opportunities. It is very troubling that this Court has decided to deny them these options.”

We don’t find the court’s decision shocking. Even with four former state attorneys general urging reconsideration, many thought it was a long shot, accompanied by high hopes but low expectations. There clearly is a path to reinstating public charter schools in Washington. It’s up to lawmakers to blaze that path.