Washington Supreme Court debates charter schools

  • By Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press
  • Tuesday, October 28, 2014 5:19pm
  • Local NewsNorthwest

OLYMPIA— The debate over money for education was heard at the Washington Supreme Court again on Tuesday. But this time it had to do with the state’s new commitment to public charter schools.

A coalition of teachers, parents and community groups is suing the state to stop the new charter system from getting off the ground.

The discussion Tuesday focused on what the state constitution says about the money to be used to pay for public schools. The central questions were: How many of those dollars are restricted to traditional public schools? How much leeway does the Legislature have in paying for the education of children whose parents decide to send them to charter schools?

In September, the Supreme Court heard arguments concerning another state lawsuit on education funding. The court decided later that month that it would hold the Legislature in contempt for its lack of progress toward fixing the way the state pays for public education. The court has determined that lawmakers are not meeting their constitutional responsibility to fully pay for basic education and that they are relying too much on local tax-levy dollars to balance the education budget.

Both that case, known as the McCleary decision, and this lawsuit focus on the same section of the Washington Constitution, Article IX. Based on the questions the justices asked, their decision on this case may focus on money as well.

The justices kept coming back to the way some state dollars are restricted for use in common schools, which are known today as regular public schools. At the core of this case is the question: Do charter schools meet the constitutional definition of common schools?

Justice Debra Stephens wanted to hear where the limits are on the flexibility of state education spending and the definition of what is a common school.

Paul Lawrence, who represents the coalition that brought the lawsuit, urged the justices in his briefs and his arguments on Tuesday to look to decisions made by the court more than 100 years ago to understand what the framers had in mind.

The state has argued instead that the interpretation of common schools has charged over time to reflect societal changes. For example, high schools are now part of common schools, and they were not part of that category in the beginning. Community colleges also get state dollars set aside for K-12 schools because of the Running Start program, which allows a student to attend high school and community college at the same time.

Both sides agreed that some money is restricted to regular public schools and that it’s difficult to tell which individual dollars are restricted to the schools and which are not. But they did not agree on what that means for charter schools.

Deputy Solicitor General Rebecca Glasgow said the Legislature could separate every dollar and still have enough money left over to pay for charter schools, arguing that only 29 percent of the state tax dollars for education is restricted.

That led Stephens to ask, “Could the other 71 percent be spent on anything?”

Lawrence argued that nearly all the money for schools is restricted because those dollars are so comingled. If citizens knew how charter schools would be competing for dollars with traditional public schools they might not have voted for the charter law in 2012, he said.

“Would the voters have voted for an add-on school system, especially in light of McCleary,” Lawrence asked. The McCleary decision has already put pressure on state lawmakers to find billions more in state money for education before the 2017-18 school year.

Dave Stolier, the assistant attorney general in charge of the education division, said after the hearing that any confusion on the part of the justices may stem from the old court cases they are being asked to consider as part of this decision.

“It’s a complex case in many ways,” Stolier said. “I think there was some confusion up there as to how that system works and the role of the state property tax.”

Talk to us

More in Local News

The county canvassing board certifies election results at the Snohomish County Auditor’s Office in Everett, Washington on Tuesday, Nov. 28, 2023.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
General election results stamped official by canvassing board

In Snohomish County, one hand recount will take place. Officials said ballot challenges were down this year.

The Days Inn on Everett Mall Way, which Snohomish County is set to purchase and convert into emergency housing, is seen Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Over $130M for affordable housing set to be approved by County Council

The five-year investment plan of the 0.1% sales tax aims to construct 550 new affordable units.

Two snowboarders head up the mountain in a lift chair on the opening day of ski season at Stevens Pass Ski Area on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022, near Skykomish, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Ski season delayed at Stevens Pass due to minimal snow

Resort originally planned to open Dec. 1. But staff are hopeful this week’s snow will allow guests to hit the slopes soon.

Siblings Qingyun, left, and Ruoyun Li, 12 and 13, respectively, are together on campus at Everett Community College on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2023, in Everett, Washington. The two are taking a full course load at the community college this semester. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
Siblings, age 12 and 13, are youngest students at EvCC campus

Qingyun Li was 11 when he scored a perfect 36 on the ACT test. His sister, Ruoyun, was one point away.

Edmond’s newly elected mayor Mike Rosen on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Mayor-elect Rosen wants to ‘make Edmonds politics boring again’

Mike Rosen handily defeated incumbent Mayor Mike Nelson. He talked with The Herald about how he wants to gather the “full input” of residents.

A speed camera facing west along 220th Street Southwest on Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2023 in Edmonds, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Traffic cameras, and tickets, come to Edmonds; Mukilteo could be next

New school zone cameras in Edmonds will begin operating in January. Mukilteo is considering enforcement cameras as well.

A person walks their dog along a flooded Old Snohomish Monroe Road on Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2021 in Snohomish, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Flood-resistant floors and sandbags are price of riverside life in Sultan

Flooding is a threat every year for 75,000 locals — and the long-term forecast suggests it’ll only get worse in the coming decades.

3 men charged in armed home invasion near Everett

Prosecutors allege the trio targeted other Asian American homes across Snohomish, Whatcom and King counties.

Team members prep for the upcoming ski season at Stevens Pass Resort in Skykomish, Washington on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023.  (Annie Barker / The Herald)
Any day now: All eyes on snow forecast at Stevens Pass

The ski area was a flurry of activity this week, as staff made sure a new lift and app were running smoothly.

Carjacking suspects tracked via GPS from Everett to Renton, then arrested

A King County resident reported two people stole their Mercedes at gunpoint. Hours later, its GPS tracker pinged in north Everett.

Man sentenced for racist threats to Edmonds animal control officer

Sean Wagner spewed slurs at an officer who seized his dogs. He was sentenced to jail for a hate crime.

A sign in front of the AquaSox front office references the upcoming Everett City Council vote on a sum of $1.1 million to give to outside contractors to help upgrade a new stadium on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Everett AquaSox stadium upgrade gets $1.1M green light from city

City officials want to keep the team in Everett. But will they play in a new stadium downtown in 2027? Or an updated Funko Field?

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.