Charter school opponents may win – for now

On July 3, Washington state unions filed a complaint against charter schools and a request of injunction for protection from Initiative 1240. Ignoring the will of the people for more options and choice in public education, opponents of charter schools ran to the courts in a last ditch effort to maintain the status quo.

Eight months earlier, voters passed Initiative 1240, which allowed for charter schools to be an option for students across the state. In light of recent data from the State Board of Education which showed that only 11 percent of Washington schools scored an “A” on the State Achievement Index, parents and students decided that Washington should finally join 41 other states across the nation in taking this important step forward.

Predictably, when the public school establishment lost at the ballot box, it decided to take the issue to court. And to not just any court, but to Judge Jean Rietschel of King County, the most liberal judge in the most liberal court in Washington state. The strategy was obvious: opponents of charter schools challenged the law in one of the few counties where the initiative failed to pass, hoping they could get a favorable verdict. They went judge and court shopping and came home with a full basket.

As a result, we can expect to see a bad outcome in the lower court. Teachers unions have argued that under Initiative 1240, charter schools are supposed to be funded from “revenues restricted by the Constitution for exclusive support of the state’s common schools.” Judge Rietschel will probably rule against charter schools based upon an extremely narrow reading of this constitutional provision. In other words, one judge will probably attempt to overturn the will of 1,525,807 Washington voters as well as every single legal precedent relating to charter schools already decided by courts across the country.

Last year, we won a battle for charter schools at the ballot box, but clearly the fight rages on. Despite concerted opposition, supporters of charter schools should continue to hold out hope. Initiative 1240 is a good law that offers struggling students a ticket out of struggling schools. Ultimately, no matter what Judge Rietschel decides, she will not be the last to speak. Those who voted for charter schools will look to another court and a better verdict if she proceeds to strike down the will of the people. Charter schools will have their victory either in this decision or on appeal.

Austin Cooper, 21, of Arlington, is a local education reform advocate and Master of Public Policy candidate at Pepperdine University.

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