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Coalition to challenge new charter school law

04/07/2016

The Washington Education Association Board of Directors has voted to join a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Washington’s new charter school law.

They are joining with a coalition of public school educators, administrators and labor unions whose members believe the new law does not adequately address two fundamental constitutional flaws in the original charter law, which was overturned by the Washington Supreme Court:

The new law allows unelected charter school operators to spend public money without adequate public oversight or accountability. The new law funds charter schools with lottery money, diverting funding from the state general fund, the main source of funding for the state’s K-12 public schools.

(In its separate McCleary decision, the Washington Supreme Court ruled the state is failing to amply fund K-12 public schools as required by the state Constitution, and the court is currently holding the Legislature in contempt of court and assessing fines of $100,000 a day.) 

The suit also seeks to clarify if the use of a central alternative learning environment, or ALE, is allowable within the law. The state set up an ALE with the Mary Walker School District as a fiscal agent to channel public funds into these privately operated charter schools. 

“This law still does not meet our state’s rigorous standards for funding, accountability or public education. It shortchanges the more than one million public school students who are still waiting for the state to meet its constitutional obligation to them and their education,” said Washington Education Association President Kim Mead. The WEA Board voted to support the lawsuit at its 96th annual convention in Spokane.

“In its recent charter school ruling, the Supreme Court stressed the importance of oversight by publicly elected representatives. That oversight is completely missing from the new charter school law,” said Dr. Frank Hewins, president of the Washington Association of School Administrators. “Even more troubling, is the role that well-funded private interests played in pushing this law forward while the Legislature continues to disregard its paramount duty to the state’s one million public school students.”

“Public funds belong in public schools and we object to the ongoing efforts, in spite of a Supreme Court decision, of moneyed interests to siphon funds into charter schools,” said Karen Strickland, president of American Federation of Teachers Washington. “We stand in solidarity with WEA and other public education advocates to put this issue to rest once and for all.”

Plaintiffs, including many of the people and groups involved in the charter school lawsuit that the State Supreme Court found was unconstitutional, include:

Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA)  The Washington Federation of State Employees  United Food and Commercial Workers  American Federation of Teachers Teamsters Joint Council No. 28, which represents classified school employees The Washington State Labor Council AFL-CIO The Aerospace Machinists Union DL 751

It could take up to two months to prepare the suit before filing in court. More plaintiffs may join the case during that time. Seattle attorney Paul Lawrence, who argued the successful case against the earlier charter law, will be the lead attorney.

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