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Sunday, September 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Washington education chief wants special session on charter schools

OLYMPIA – The Washington Legislature should hold a special session to help charter school students “caught in the middle” of a recent Supreme Court decision that their schools are unconstitutional, the state’s top education official said Wednesday.

Superintendent of Public Schools Randy Dorn urged Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special session to address Friday’s decision on charter schools, as well as an earlier ruling that the Legislature has not developed a plan to deal with another legal problem: the way some school districts use local tax money to pay for expenses that are the responsibility of the state.

The state faces a $100,000-a-day fine until the Legislature comes up with a solution to that problem, the court ruled earlier this summer.

Dorn didn’t dispute the court’s ruling on charter schools, but he said something needs to be done about the 1,000-plus children who have started classes in those institutions.

“Even before the initiative was finalized, I warned the drafters it was unconstitutional,” he said in a statement posted on the agency’s website. “But now that school has started, we need to do everything we can not to disrupt the education of the children caught in the middle of the argument.”

In a 6-3 ruling, the court’s majority said charter schools don’t qualify for state tax money because they don’t fit the definition of “common schools” that has been used for more than a century. Later this month, if the court doesn’t agree to an expected request to reconsider the case, it will be returned to King County Superior Court to develop an order based on that ruling.

The Washington State Charter Schools Association, which intends to seek that reconsideration, has said the schools will remain open even if state tax money is cut off, using private grants if necessary to complete the school year.

Inslee has the legal authority to call a special session but so far has not commented on the court ruling or whether he would issue that call.

He resisted a call for a special session earlier this year when the Supreme Court ruled the Legislature had not followed orders to come up with a plan to replace the property tax system in which some school districts use part of their levy funds to augment school salaries – a state responsibility. Until the Legislature comes up with such a plan – even though the plan might not go into effect for several years – the state must pay a $100,000-per-day fine into a special fund that would be used for public education.

But until the Legislature meets, there’s no way to set that money aside, and no fund into which it can be put.

A special session could last as long as 30 days, but Inslee couldn’t limit its scope solely to education issues.

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