The Washington Supreme Court issued a decision today affirming nearly all of the state’s charter school law.
The recently decided case is El Centro de la Raza v. State, in which several groups — including teachers’ unions and other education nonprofits — challenged the law, arguing that the state’s charter schools are operating in violation of the constitution.
Washington’s public charter school system was created in 2012, after voters approved I-1240. A 2016 Charter School Act amended the system and provided for 40 charter schools to be designated as free to students as alternatives to the state’s common public schools. The system currently serves approximately 3,400 students.
Mainly due to the publicly-funded, privately-operated nature of the system, charter schools have continued to spark intense disagreement.
“At the outset, we are aware of the deep-seated conflicting opinions regarding charter schools,” Justice Mary Yu wrote in the court’s lead opinion. “Our limited role is to determine whether the enacted legislation complies with the requirements of our state constitution.”
While the court did decide that one of the provisions in the 2016 Charter School Act that restricts charter school employees’ right to organize does violate the constitution, the court also ruled that the provision is “severable” and can be removed.
“The remainder of the Charter School Act is constitutional on its face,” Yu wrote.
The court also refuted the argument that charter schools violate the constitution because they are financed by the general fund that also pays for common public schools. According to the court, charter schools are funded by the Opportunity Pathways Account, which is funded by revenue from the lottery.
“It is undisputed that the OPA is the sole funding source for charter schools, and it contains no money from the general fund,” Yu wrote.
The groups opposing charter schools in this case argued that as more schools are created and costs increase, the OPA fund — which also pays for scholarships and early education programs — could dry up. In that case, the legislature might turn to additional, currently unauthorized public funds to support charter schools, the groups contended.
In response, the court stated this argument was only speculation, and would be “better reserved for an as-applied challenge.”
The Washington State Charter Schools Association issued a statement following the decision, calling it “a victory for the students of Washington state, a win for public education, and a big step forward in the fight to close the opportunity gap that persists in our state.”