KING County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel
relied on legal precedent and a smart reading of education policy to reject nearly all of the constitutional challenges to Initiative 1240, the charter schools law passed by voters in November.
Rietschel’s opinion, released last week, apparently confused charter school opponents, who immediately announced the new schools had been declared unconstitutional.
State Attorney General Bob Ferguson quickly cleared up the misunderstanding with a succinct summary of the ruling: “The court has held the vast majority of the charter schools initiative constitutional, and the state will continue to implement this law.”
Rietschel did strike down a limited aspect of the charter school law. The judge found it unconstitutional to designate a charter school as a “common school,” meaning charters may not be eligible for money from the state’s school construction fund.
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That will have little to no immediate impact. The majority of applications to open a charter school in 2014 and thereafter propose leasing space in existing schools or community facilities. The state matching fund is only for major school remodels or new construction.
The judge’s ruling rightly does not stop charters from receiving the same per-pupil funding for operating costs as traditional public schools.
The teacher’s union, the Washington Education Association, is leading the coalition fighting the initiative, which allows for up to 40 schools over five years. Now the plaintiffs are threatening to turn to the state Supreme Court.
For now, state law and public money for operating costs remain firmly behind charter schools.