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Why League Opposes Charter Schools

Founded by activists who secured voting rights for women, the League of Women Voters has always worked to promote the values and processes of representative government. The League believes in an open governmental system that is representative, accountable and responsive – one that assures opportunities for citizen participation in government decision-making.

Because of these deeply held convictions, League of Women Voters of WA opposed the charter school initiatives of 1996 and 2000, the referendum of 2004 and the initiative that passed in 2012 and was a party to the lawsuit on which the State Supreme Court ruled last Friday, September 4, 2015. League’s position was based in part on the following:

 Washington’s founders adopted unique State Constitutional provisions governing public education in Washington. These provisions required a school system that was controlled by and accountable to the voters whose taxes support the schools, that was general and uniform among all Washington’s children, and that was fully funded by revenue that was protected from diversion to other uses.

 This founding vision for the State’s public schools was confirmed shortly after the State Constitution’s adoption by the Washington Supreme Court which stated that a common school is open “to all children . . . free, and subject to, and under the control of, the qualified voters of the school district” and held unconstitutional a publicly funded experimental school whose management was not controlled by and accountable to the voters. (School Dist. No. 20 v. Bryan, 51 Wash. 498).

 Charter supporters in drafting the initiative that passed in 2012 ignored the unique provisions of the State Constitution and long-standing Washington Court precedent. Private boards selected by non-profit corporations rather than publicly elected by citizens will govern charter schools. Voters will lose their right to elect representatives to oversee the spending of their taxes.

 Charter schools will be exempt from state statutes and rules applicable to school districts and boards, creating a separate and unequal school system – even though Article IX of the Washington state Constitution requires a general and uniform system of public schools.

For these same reasons, LWVWA agrees with the Supreme Court’s decision that affirmed the King County Superior Court’s ruling of December 13, 2013 that Charter Schools are not common schools and therefore are not eligible to receive restricted common school funding from the state.

It is unfortunate that parents and schools were not notified before school starting that the Supreme Court held its hearing on the case in October, 2014. It was clear that the case was pending before the Supreme Court and that the ruling might affect charter school funding when it was issued.

LWVWA has worked hard for many years to assure that Washington State amply funds education, its paramount duty in the State Constitution. Since the legislature was unable to address this sufficiently and the State of Washington is still in contempt of court in the McCleary lawsuit, LWVWA disagrees with calls for a Special Session of the Legislature to deal with the Charter School issue. A plan to fully fund our schools that serve one million-plus students, as the McCleary decision calls for, is what is needed for all of Washington’s students.