A King County Superior Court judge ruled Friday that Washington state’s newest charter school law — approved by the Legislature last year — does not violate the state constitution.
Judge John Chun said the plaintiffs, who included the Washington Education Association (WEA) and El Centro de la Raza, were unable to demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that the law runs afoul of the constitution.
Chun said in his ruling that state law presumes a statute is constitutional and that plaintiffs challenging a law must meet a high standard to prove otherwise.
“On its face, the Act operates within the bounds of constitutionality,” Chun wrote.
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“This is a huge win for kids,” said Tom Franta, who heads WA Charters, a statewide nonprofit that supports charter schools in Washington state. “Charter public schools have been given a stamp of approval from Washington voters, the state Legislature and now, the state’s judicial system.”
“We’re disappointed,” said Rich Wood, spokesman for WEA, the state’s largest teachers union. He said WEA officials have not yet decided whether to appeal Chun’s ruling.
State Sen. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, an author of the 2016 charter legislation, called Friday’s court decision an “unsurprising but welcome win for current and future students.” He said Washington’s charter schools are “helping close the opportunity gap with two-thirds of students from communities of color and low-income families.”
Washington voters approved an initiative establishing charter schools in 2012. The WEA, the League of Women Voters and others sued, challenging the constitutionality of that measure.
In 2015, the Washington State Supreme Court agreed with them and struck down the law. The Supreme Court ruled that charter schools were not entitled to funding reserved for public schools in the state constitution, because they are not governed by a publicly elected board.
The Legislature followed up in 2016 with the Charter School Act, which altered the funding source for charter schools, drawing on state lottery proceeds instead of more traditional school funding sources.
Friday’s ruling came in response to a court challenge of that 2016 law.
Paul Lawrence, attorney for the coalition of organizations challenging the 2016 law, said that Friday’s court ruling left open a future challenge, should lottery revenues one day become insufficient to pay for the schools.
Both sides in the charter fight say they want what’s best for kids. WEA has said that charters are a distraction from the larger school funding problems that the state is under court order to remedy this year.
“Providing all of Washington’s 1.1 million students with an amply funded, high-quality public education is our state’s paramount duty, and diverting public funds to unaccountable, privately run charter schools is not the solution,” said Wood.
“We’d hope that plaintiffs will join us in focusing on ensuring that Washington provides great public school options to all kids,” said Maggie Meyers, spokeswoman for the charter group.“The time for politics is over.”
Washington currently has eight charter public schools that enroll more than 1,600 students — including three in Tacoma.
Three more charter schools are set to open this fall, two in Seattle and one in Walla Walla.