In a stunning decision late Friday, the Supreme Court of Washington state ruled that the state’s brand-new charter schools are unconstitutional and must be shut down.
In the 6-3 ruling, the court’s justices held that charter schools do not qualify as “common” schools under the state constitution because they are controlled by a charter school board rather than local voters, and therefore are ineligible for public funding.
Charter schools in Washington were legalized by voter initiative in 2012, when I-240 passed by a thin 1 -percent margin. Last year, the state had only one charter, but this year an additional eight were set to open. Now, it appears likely they will be shut down in the near future, meaning the 1,200 students set to attend them will have to return to regular public schools.
The lawsuit against charters was brought by the Washington Education Association (WEA; the state’s main teachers union), along with the League of Women Voters, El Centro de la Raza, and the Washington Association of School Administrators.
“The Supreme Court has affirmed what we’ve said all along — charter schools steal money from our existing classrooms and voters have no say in how these charter schools spend taxpayer funds,” WEA president Kim Mead said in a statement.
Charter schools, which already exist in more than 40 U.S. states, are public schools that are operate independently of the ordinary public school system. Often, such schools are run by non-profits (and sometimes for-profit companies) and they are free of many requirements placed on regular public schools, such as the need to hire a unionized workforce. Such schools are popular with many parents and education reformers, who believe charters introduce competition into the public school system and offer a way out for parents whose children would otherwise be stuck in failed public schools.
On the other hand, charters are fiercely opposed by most teachers unions, which argue that charters simply divert money away from regular public schools while producing worse outcomes.
Washington’s charter school commission blasted the ruling not only for its content but also its timing.
“It is unprecedented that the Court issued a decision in this way, at 4:05 the Friday before the Labor Day weekend,” the commission said in a statement given to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
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