Charter school commission winds down and forges ahead

The Washington State Charter School Commission acknowledged Wednesday that it must make plans to shut down in the wake of Friday’s state Supreme Court ruling that declared Washington’s charter school law unconstitutional.

But commission members also said they want to hold open the possibility that a legislative remedy or court reconsideration could reverse the situation. And they noted that the charter schools themselves — including three campuses in Tacoma — plan to stay open this year with money pledged by private benefactors.

In a special meeting conducted by conference call, commissioners approved several formal motions but held little public discussion. They met in executive session to discuss legal strategies before the public portion of the meeting.

Commissioners asked executive director Joshua Halsey to lead commission staff in completing “wind down” activities and to help the state’s nine privately operated, publicly funded charter schools “grapple with individual situations,” according to a motion by commission chairman Steve Sundquist.

Halsey said after the meeting that the commission is working under the assumption that it must cease operations by Sept. 24 — 20 days after the court ruling. That is the timeframe in which parties to the case can ask the court to reconsider its decision.

“While we are hopeful we will get an extension,” he said, “we have to operate under the knowledge we have.”

That includes laying off commission staff and closing out contracts with the state’s charter schools.

The nine-member commission has an office in Olympia and appointed members from all over the state. It was authorized by the charter school initiative approved by Washington voters in 2012.

Commissioner Cindi Williams noted Wednesday that “many of these schools are not intending to wind down in the next 20 days.”

The Washington State Charter Schools Association, an organization that supports and advocates for Washington’s new charters, announced Tuesday that it had vowed to keep all nine of the schools open for the school year through grants and private donations.

At the same time, the association said it’s working with its legal team to ask the Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling. The court, in issuing its ruling Sept. 4, also said it would send the case back to King County Superior Court, where it originated in 2013, for a new court order.

No state per-pupil funding has been distributed to charters for the current school year. That money was due to be paid out Sept. 30. Halsey said that if the Supreme Court reconsiders or grants the schools an extension to operate, charter schools could receive their September state funding.

“But that’s a real wild card right now,” he added.

Charter supporters want Gov. Jay Inslee to call a special session of the Legislature this year to come up with a legal solution. Barring that, they’re hopeful it will be addressed in the regular session that opens in January.

The commission Wednesday approved a motion asking that Halsey work through the state attorney general’s office to seek a “legal fix” that would allow charter schools to remain open until the end of the school year so that the Legislature can explore possible remedies.

Williams urged the commission to be mindful of what individual schools decide and “how they want to best fulfill obligations to their communities.”

Charters have enrolled an estimated 1,200 students across the state. Three of the state’s nine charters opened this year in Tacoma, with about 400 students. They are SOAR Academy, Destiny Charter Middle School and Summit Olympus High School.

The charter commission is scheduled to hold its next meeting Sept. 17 in Tacoma. The meeting is scheduled for 10 a.m.-5 p.m. at the STAR Center, 3873 S. 66th St.