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Washington State Charters Vow to Remain Open Via Private Funding

September 8, 2015

On September 04, 2015, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled 6-3 in League of Women Voters vs. State of Washington that charter schools are unconstitutional in Washington State.

The majority opinion centered upon the fact that the voter-approved Charter School Act of 2012 (I-1240) would have allowed for the creation of up to 40 charter schools within five years– and would have been financed using public funds but without oversight by a publicly-elected board:

…Because charter schools under 1-1240 are run by an appointed board or nonprofit organization and thus are not subject to local voter control, they cannot qualify as “common schools” within the meaning of article IX [of the Washington State Constitution].

…Charter schools do not qualify as common [public] schools.

Moreover, the majority opinion noted that charter schools in Washington State are not eligible for funding from the general fund, and since the Act hinges upon public school funding as its funding source, the Court declared the entire Act unconstitutional:

The [Charter School] Act unconstitutionally reallocates these restricted funds to charter schools, which do not qualify as common schools.

Compounding this problem, the State does not segregate constitutionally restricted moneys from other state funds. Nor can it demonstrate that these restricted moneys are protected from being spent on charter schools. Given this absence of segregation and accountability, we find unconvincing the State’s view that charter schools may be constitutionally funded through the general fund. Historically, the state common school funds were maintained in a separate public school account and distributed to the common schools by the Superintendent. … While some other constitutionally restricted state funds continue to be maintained in separate accounts (e.g., common school construction fund…), since at least 1967, the constitutionally restricted common school property levy revenues have been deposited in the State’s “general fund,” which is used for the basic education allocation. … There is no way to track the restricted common school funds or to ensure that these dollars are used exclusively to support the common schools. …

We also disagree with the State’s view that the Act’s remaining provisions are saved because funding “follows the student” and in any event charter schools could be funded out of the state general fund. … The fact that public school money distributions are generally based on per capita student attendance does not mean that common school funds are available for students who do not attend common schools. Where a child is not attending a common school, there can be no entitlement to “an apportionment of the current state school fund, to a credit predicated on attendance of children at such … school.” …

Further, as discussed above, the Act designates and relies on common school funds as its funding source. Without those funds, the Act cannot function as intended. …

The portions of I-1240 designating charter schools as common schools violate article IX, section 2 of the Washington Constitution and are invalid. For the same reason, the portions of I-1240 providing access to restricted common school funding are also invalid. These provisions are not severable and render the entire Act unconstitutional.

Thus, the nine charter schools in Washington State in 2015-16 will almost certainly not be funded using public money. However, as Komo News reports, all nine schools vow that they will remain open this school year by raising the estimated $14 million they need via private donations.

Note, however, that the intention is that charter schools draw public money and not just survive on private funds. So, these nine charters’ surviving the year on private donations is certainly a short-term fix. The public can watch to see who steps up with the temporary millions– unless the money does not come from a nonprofit– in which case the public might not know who is financing the effort.

Meanwhile, as Komo News notes, the Washington State Charter Schools Association plans to petition the Washington State Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling (and to perhaps turn to the dissenting opinion of three judges who stated that they agreed that charter schools are not common (i.e., public) schools, but that they should be able to be funded via the general fund:

…Charter schools are not common schools. But nothing in the Act requires the diversion of resources out of the three funds identified by article IX as restricted for the benefit of common schools. Rather, the State can constitutionally support charter schools through the general fund.

The Washington State Charter Schools Association could (has?) also petition Washington Governor Jay Inslee to call a special session of the legislature to somehow fix the funding issue. However, to “fix” the general fund to accommodate the non-elected-board-run charters might mean reworking the general fund and re-partitioning funding, pre-1967-style. Nevertheless, the legislature’s setting apart taxpayer money to fund what all nine state supreme court judges agree are not common schools appears to be on the surface impetus for yet another funding lawsuit.

There is also the possibility of amending the Washington constitution. As Komo News reports:

While the justices focused on how the state pays for charter schools, they also said the charter schools are unconstitutional because they aren’t subject to local voter control. That raised the question of whether a constitutional amendment would be needed to allow for public charter schools.

House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan, a Democrat from Covington, said attorneys for his caucus are still evaluating that. Sullivan, who opposed the initiative, said he’s nevertheless open to a solution.

What appears certain is that proponents of the Washington State charter schools are seeking public funding without public oversight, or schools “devoid of local control from their inception to their daily operation,” as the Washington Supreme Court ruling notes.

However, since they will not be publicly funded for this year, at least, it seems that Washington State might have the only charter schools that cannot possibly mismanage or outright steal public money.

Refreshing.

money stacks

_________________________________________________________

Schneider is a southern Louisiana native, career teacher, trained researcher, and author of the ed reform whistle blower, A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education.

She also has a second book, Common Core Dilemma: Who Owns Our Schools?, published on June 12, 2015.

both books

12 Comments
  1. Meanwhile Washington continues to underfund it’s existing public schools. And charter school cheerleaders spread myths. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/nina-rees/save-washington-state-pub_b_8094048.html

    • Jill Reifschneider permalink

      When the ballot initiative passed by .7% of the vote, that was NOT evidence of a clear desire for charter schools. It was evidence that the pro-charter school folks (Bill Gates & Friends) had out-spent the informed anti-charter public by A LOT of money! A ballot initiative had failed two or three times prior to this one.The article you shared is disheartening. What a propaganda item. The idea of a special session of the state legislature to fund charter schools when they have failed to fund public schools sufficiently is an outrageous proposition.

      • Zorba permalink

        If Gates is so enamored of charter schools, then he should spend his money to fund them directly, rather than expecting tax dollars to support what amounts to private schools.

      • WA Teacher permalink

        Gates doesn’t even pay his WA State taxes for his company. Microsoft licenses their software in Nevada to avoid taxes that would pay for our K-12 public schools. Then the WA State legislature gave tax breaks to Microsoft and Boeing, and the latter quickly moved jobs to low-paying, non-union South Carolina and a few other spots.

  2. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    The charter industry has big bucks backing these schools. I think they will take this beyond the state court if possible or they will get some creative multi-year funding, possibly by proposing a pay-for-sucess contract with state officials or a legislative committee outside of the state department of education and current chartering apparatus. That would allow the schools to operate with private money for more than a few years, with the prospect of winning a legal battle or getting the constitution modified during that time. The schools would be free to cherry pick students and much else to save money.

    This is a non-trival ruling that will lead to an allout effort to overide it. I am reminded of PR for religious freedom gathered by the clerk who is refusing to issue marraige licenses to same sex couples.

  3. Bonnie Wilder permalink

    Mercedes, just wanted to share with you that in my Citrus County FL there is a charter school, the Environmental Academy, right on the bay where high schoolers take regular courses plus concentration in the EA specialty. My friend was a teacher there and I presented a “hands on” program to srs and sophomores on the Constitution which was well-received. Classes tend to be small, since the facility is not large (an unused Real Estate set of connected offices on pilings over the water!)

    They are UNDER the auspices of the School Bd. Students & can apply for one semester each year, returning to the one of the three regular high schools the rest of the time.

    I believe this is an answer to the issue here, and was wondering where else this is done. I DO believe if public funds are used, then Constitutionally every charter school should be held publicly accountable to We the People.

    It just might be of interest to research this one out to help elsewhere. I am NOT an expert on the Academy, but like what I see there. It works in Citrus County and could work elsewhere. BGW

  4. Zorba permalink

    Reblogged this on Politicians Are Poody Heads.

  5. S. Smith permalink

    Why do these 9 schools, enrolling about 300 students each, need over $1 million apiece to operate?

    • WA Teacher permalink

      We were trying to figure that out at a meeting, especially since several of these privatized schools got at least 100K already in startup monies. The only thing we could figure is that they are/were getting a higher per-pupil allocation than public schools. Or they wanted to pay their admins overseeing 1 school the same wage as a public school district superintendent who oversees 60+ schools

      • Donna permalink

        Perhaps the answer to that is the same reason Eva Moskowitz pays herself $600,000 and just moved her offices to a high priced “prestigious” address–while Farina makes much less to oversee so many more.

        Why does TFA get grants from the government (which as a taxpayer I full resent), plus donations from their villain-thropists, plus donations from the universities from which the “genius corps members” graduate (Princeton donates monies per genius both to TFA and to the students directly through some alumni off-shoot) and on top of that, TFA gets a finders fee from the districts in which the geniuses pretend to change the world, on top of their salaries.

        All those monies went to pay Wendy $400,000 annually, and fill her husband’s charters with fresh meat.

        I wold imagine all that money is needed to pay the admins, and the perhaps the hedge funders. Isn’t it all about the ROI? Perhaps it is becoming ponzi scheme now, private “donations” will become hedgefunder dividends?

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider: Washington State Charters Vow to Stay Open | Diane Ravitch's blog
  2. Ed News, Friday, September 11, 2015 Edition | tigersteach

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