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Sat., Dec. 14, 2013

Editorial: Editorial: Washington state charter schools get green light from ruling

Charter school supporters heaved a sigh of relief Thursday when a King County judge left the law largely intact, though there could be one potential hurdle.

First the hurdle: King County Judge Jean Rietschel ruled that under the state constitution a charter school isn’t a “common school,” because it isn’t under the control of local school district voters. That may mean such schools aren’t eligible for state construction funding. While the legal ramifications are still being studied, this could mean that charters must use their own financing for facilities and maintenance.

None of the three charter schools applicants to Spokane Public Schools has requested a facility, said Mark Anderson, associate superintendent for school support services. The district is in the process of identifying existing structures that could house charters. Anderson said the district is also examining how this ruling would impact state construction matching funds, because it doesn’t want its charter effort to jeopardize long-range plans to modernize schools.

Beyond the construction issue, it’s all systems go for charter school implementation, because the judge shot down the other constitutional challenges to the law.

The plaintiffs, including the Washington Education Association, the Washington Association of School Administrators and the League of Women Voters, claimed the Legislature had delegated its responsibility to ensure that students are getting a “basic education,” as defined by law. The judge said there is no prohibition on delegating authority, and the charter statute includes state standards and guidelines that charter schools must meet.

Plaintiffs also claimed the law is unconstitutional because it takes away authority from the state schools superintendent. But the judge pointed to provisions in the charter law that put that office in charge of school funding, teacher certification and student assessment for charters. She also denied the claim that the law violated state collective bargaining agreements and ruled that it’s premature to conclude that levy money would be misappropriated.

In short, the law approved by voters in 2012 is on sound constitutional footing, according to Judge Rietschel, although the state Supreme Court is expected to have the final say.

Nonetheless, there’s no reason for the charter process to tap the brakes.

A total of 19 applications for charter schools had been submitted by Nov. 22, according to Stand for Children, an education reform group that supports public school charters. By law, eight can be formed per year, so if more applications than that pass muster, a lottery will determine who goes forward the first year.

We’re puzzled that eight schools across the entire state, and a maximum of 40 over the next five years, can be viewed as scary. But we’re encouraged that this tool for innovation can proceed.

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Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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