By Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press
SEATTLE — A judge will soon decide whether the state’s new charter school law is an innovative tool for educating Washington’s children or violates the state Constitution’s mandate for an equal education for all.
King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel heard arguments Friday in a lawsuit brought by a coalition of parents, educators and community groups, asking the court to prevent further implementation of the year-old law and declare it unconstitutional.
The state attorney general’s office, representing the people of Washington, argued the charter law enhances education in Washington and does not circumvent anything in the state Constitution or the court decisions that have clarified sections on education.
Rietschel said she would not issue a ruling until she has time to carefully consider the issue.
Applications from people who want to open the state’s first charter schools were due Friday, with the first of these alternative public schools scheduled to open in fall 2014. The Washington State Charter School Commission said it received 19 proposals by the 5 p.m. deadline.
Charter school opponents, represented by Attorney Paul Lawrence, say the law passed by voters last year is unconstitutional because it interferes with the state’s obligation to pay for public schools, set a uniform curriculum and establish other rules. Lawrence also argued the law takes authority granted by the Constitution away from the superintendent of public instruction and from the Legislature.
However Assistant Attorney General Dave Stolier said the charter does exactly what the Supreme Court has ordered the Legislature to do: continue to innovate and change to meet the needs of Washington children.
“There’s just not enough here to overturn the voters’ will in this case,” Stolier said. The state is asking the court to grant a motion for summary judgment and stop the lawsuit from going forward.
Both attorneys — and a third lawyer representing the sponsors of the charter school initiative — quoted extensively from recent Supreme Court decisions on education, with a major focus on what’s known as the McCleary decision, in which the court ruled that the way the state pays for education is unconstitutional.
Rietschel asked a lot of questions to tease out their arguments and understood the potential importance of this case, both lawyers agreed after the hearing concluded. Neither would say whether anything the judge said indicated how she was leaning.
Reitschel implied it may take a while to figure it out.
“When I first read both parties’ briefs, it was like going down two different roads that had nothing to do with each other,” Rietschel said, almost immediately after Stolier stood up to make his argument.
The coalition bringing the lawsuit includes the state teachers’ union, a group of Washington school administrators, the League of Women Voters, El Centro de la Raza and several parents, children and school advocates.