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A Legal Challenge to Charter Schools

A coalition of educators and community groups has filed a legal demand with the Washington Attorney General challenging the constitutionality of Initiative 1240, the state’s new charter school law.

The demand asserts I-1240, the Charter School Act, violates the Washington Constitution by improperly diverting public school funds to private non-profit groups that are not subject to local voter control and impeding the state’s constitutional obligation to fund fully K-12 public education.

The League of Women Voters of Washington, the Washington Education Association and El Centro de la Raza filed the demand with the state attorney general’s office earlier today.
“The Washington Supreme Court has ruled the state is violating its paramount duty to fund our public schools,” said Catherine Ahl of the League. “The Charter School Act drains money from public schools to privately run charter schools that aren’t accountable to local voters — taking away the right of citizens to elect representatives to oversee the spending of their taxes.”

The demand outlines at least seven constitutional problems with the Charter School Act:
1. It violates the state’s constitutional “paramount duty” to provide for the education of children within its borders. In its 2012 McCleary decision, the Washington Supreme Court ordered the Legislature to fully fund basic educational programs by 2018. The Charter School Act interferes with the state’s progress toward compliance by diverting already insufficient resources away from public school districts.
2. It unconstitutionally diverts funding that is restricted to use for public common schools to private charter schools that are not subject to local voter control.
3. It violates the “general and uniform” requirement in the constitution because charter schools are not subject to most of the laws and regulations applicable to public school districts, including many of the common school provisions defining the elements of a basic education.
4. It amends existing state law in a manner not permitted by the constitution.
5. It violates the constitutional requirement that the superintendent of public instruction “have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools.”
6. Its language relating to the conversion of a public school into a charter school is unconstitutionally vague.
7. It violates the constitution because it mandates the use of local voter-approved levy funds for a purpose other than the purpose for which the voters approved the levies.

The demand asks the attorney general’s office to address the unconstitutional provisions of the Charter School Act. If the attorney general’s office declines, the coalition will file a complaint in Superior Court. Paul Lawrence of Pacifica Law Group is the lead attorney in the case.

The League of Women Voters is a nonpartisan political organization. WEA represents nearly 82,000 public school employees. El Centro de la Raza is a Seattle-based group dedicated to social justice.