Breaking Down the Charter School Decision

By /

The Washington State Supreme Court has invalidated the Charter Schools Act because its funding provisions violate the Washington State Constitution.  The Court found that the unconstitutional funding provisions of the Act cannot be segregated from the rest of the Act, so that the entire Act is invalid.  The decision rests on three main points:

  • The Constitution authorizes public funding for common schools, and charter schools are not common schools.  They are not common schools because they are not subject to the authority and public accountability of local elected school boards.  The charter schools cannot be funded by the taxpayer funded common schools fund.  All of the Justices agreed on this point.
  • Neither can charter schools be funded by the general fund because there is no way to segregate the general funds going to common schools vs. charter schools.  Only six Justices agreed on this point, and three of the Justices dissented on this point and argued that such funds could be segregated and allocated, that the funds follow the student wherever the student goes.
  • Most importantly, the Court held that the unconstitutional funding provisions of the Act cannot be severed from the rest of the Act, so that the entire Act is unconstitutional.

What will happen now?

There are currently nine charter schools operating in Washington and the schools have issued statements that they will continue to operate for now and are examining their legal options.  They are lobbying for a special legislative session in order for the Washington Legislature to pass a law that would authorize charter schools and eliminate the funding problems as outlined by the Court.  However, the Legislature is already dealing with a $100,000 per day sanction invoked by the Supreme Court for failing to adequately fund public education throughout the State so that there may not be the political will to deal with the education issues of approximately 1200 charter school students before dealing with the education needs of a million common school students.

About the Authors

Karen Kalzer

Ms. Kalzer practices employment and education law with an emphasis on defending complex litigation for communities of faith, non-profits, schools and private employers.

Learn More