The Washington Supreme Court should end legal action against charter schools and let the alternative public schools prove their worth.
Washington’s public charter schools are flourishing, with 2,400 enrolled and promising early indications of student success. But a shadow remains over the these schools. And the state Supreme Court should put a stop to it.
Thursday, the fledgling public charter schools system faced the justices for a second time to defend against another aggressive maneuver orchestrated mostly by the state teachers union. These tactics squander public resources, flout the will of the voters who passed the charter initiative in 2012 and get in the way of the system’s development.
The justices ought to make this the last time this robust community of public schools — designed especially to serve children from low-income families enrolled in low-performing schools — must fight for its very existence in court.
In the latest case, the plaintiffs argue the charter-school law violates the Constitution’s requirements for uniform public schools. Though charter schools are like other public schools in many ways, they differ in how their academic programs are packaged. For example, they are required to offer the state program of basic education, but like other alternative schools, including tribal compact schools and Running Start, can offer different kinds of classes and academic schedules.
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The current lawsuit also revives the argument settled in the first lawsuit about the way charter schools are funded. King County Superior Court Judge John H. Chun shot down this weak argument in his February 2017 ruling, saying charter schools are not funded by money restricted to another part of the school system.
Charter schools are public schools in Washington state. They offer an alternative to families who are dissatisfied with their traditional public schools. And as long as the Washington State Charter School Commission and the State Board of Education continue to keep a close eye on their performance, they should be allowed to continue.
Although years of data is required to give a full picture of how well these schools are helping children improve their academic achievement, the early data is promising at Washington’s 10 charter schools in Tacoma, Seattle, Kent and Spokane. The schools are making a difference for many children, for example, giving them the help they need to bring their reading ability up to grade level.
More schools are scheduled to open next fall in two new communities — Walla Walla and Tukwila.
These two lawsuits have wasted time and money that could be better used to help more families across Washington choose an alternative school for their children. Washington’s charter law requires these schools to focus on helping underserved student populations, such as children from low-income families. About 60 percent of students attending Washington charter schools are eligible for free or reduced-price lunch, compared to 44 percent of all public school students in Washington. Charter schools are also more ethnically diverse than the general school population, with 66 percent of students at charter schools children of color compared to 44 percent of public-school kids statewide.
In addition to following the state rules for other public schools, charters also are measured by how their students improve academically. If a charter fails to close achievement gaps for black, Latino and Native American students, English language learners, special education students and those living in poverty, then its charter should not be renewed.
This lawsuit has implications beyond charter schools, and a decision against charters could impact schools run by the tribes, skills centers where academics are taught along with computer science, car repair and agriculture science, as well as the Running Start program.
The Supreme Court must end this legal battle and allow the charter system to show it is making a difference for Washington children.