The state Supreme Court ruled that charter schools are unconstitutional. Specifically, the court argued that charter schools do not “qualify as common, public schools and cannot receive public funding.”
The liberal court’s ruling aligns with a coalition of far-left groups—including the Washington Education Association—that launched a lawsuit against charter schools in 2013. This was in retaliation for Washington voters passing the charter school initiative in 2012.
Dissenting justices pointed out that while charter schools do not fall under the constitutional definition of “common schools,” the law does not require funding to come from the restricted “common school” pot. A simple solution would be for charter schools to be funded via the state’s “unrestricted general fund (that) already goes toward traditional and non-traditional public schools.”
Since the court issued its controversial ruling, the last five Washington Attorneys General—representing both parties—have publically stated their opposition to the decision. They point out that the decision is unnecessary, disruptive to families and—perhaps most importantly—based on a newly invented doctrine on common schools.
Two-term Attorney General Rob McKenna has already made his position crystal clear. McKenna urged the court to reconsider its decision “which was not well reasoned, threatens programs beyond charter schools, and relies on a pretty outmoded concept of our school system that dates to 1909.”
Here’s what the other four Attorneys General are saying (via Smarter Government WA):
Bob Ferguson – Current Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced he will file a Motion for Reconsideration over the ruling. A news releasefrom his office said, “The decision not only invalidates Initiative 1240 [the charter schools initiative], but also unnecessarily calls into question the constitutionality of a wide range of other state educational programs,” including Running Start and Washington State Skills Centers. The state teachers union isn’t happy about his motion; it’s petitioning Ferguson to back down.
Christine Gregoire – The former governor and three-term attorney general told KING 5 on Friday, “I think the minority opinion in that case is spot-on. But I’ve got to tell you, even more surprising to me than the outcome of the case is the timing of it. The case had sat before the court for some time, and then it issues its opinion on the eve of when these students are going to go to school, these parents are expecting their students to go to school…The court just has to be aware of the implications of a decision like this and what it means to the children and the families when they have their children all scheduled to go to school and then are put on a moment’s notice that ‘your kid has no place to go.’ Not right, not fair.”
Ken Eikenberry – The three-term attorney general, who served from 1981-1993, told me, “I am strongly in favor of A.G. Ferguson’s motion that the Washington State Supreme Court should re-consider its ruling on charter schools. Charter schools are a valid part of our constitutional public school system, and the question of whether they are a ‘common school’ is beside the point.”
Slade Gorton – Another three-term attorney general, who went on to serve three terms in the U.S. Senate, Gorton told the Seattle Times the charter schools ruling was “an absolute disgrace” and said qualified candidates should run for state Supreme Court next year on a platform that includes criticizing the ruling.
The bi-partisan agreement on the absurdity of the court’s ruling speaks volumes and points to the court’s motivation behind the ruling. The Wall Street Journal, criticizing the court’s decision, called the ruling a “grim surprise” that is “as politically driven as it is overreaching and legally flawed.” But, the Journal took its criticism to the next level when it called the court out on the real reason for its decision. The Wall Street Journal,
“The reality is that local school boards are responsible mainly to unions thanks to collective bargaining. Tenure protections all but guarantee incompetent teachers lifetime job security. Because charters are liberated from state tenure and collective-bargaining, they can dismiss lousy teachers.
“The liberal majority’s real concern is preserving the union monopoly. Thus the court bars charters from tapping $2 billion in funds that the state constitution specifically restricts to so-called common schools. But the intent of this constitutional provision was to prevent the legislature from siphoning off designated education funds for other programs. Charter schools are public schools too.”
The Wall Street Journal’s assessment is spot on. The Washington Education Association began the fight to prevent underprivileged children from the choice of attending schools that work when it contributed the maximum amount to the campaigns of four out of the six justices who ruled against charter schools. And, when it pumped $50,000 via PAC donations into one justice’s race.
The absurdity of justices on our state Supreme Court accepting campaign contributions from a union whose lawsuit they were considering is exactly why Republican state Rep. Matt Manweller has filed an initiative that seeks to stop the sleazy practice. Manweller’s initiative would require a justice to “step down from hearing a case if his or her campaign received a donation of $1,000 or more within the past six years from any person or entity that is part of the case.”
In order for the initiative to be certified, Manweller must collect at least 246,372 valid signatures by December 31. You can find out more about Manweller’s initiative on his Facebook page.