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Core of Washington State's Charter Law Upheld, Attorney General Says

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A superior court judge in the state of Washington, ruling on a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Washington state's charter school law, has found that most of the statute is constitutional, according to the interpretation of Washington state's attorney general.

Judge Jean A. Rietschel struck down one part of the charter school law, saying that charter schools "cannot be defined as common schools because it is not under the control of the voters of the school district." Consequently, charters may not access state matching funds for school construction.

However, the ruling also states that "the court holds that the charter school act meets the definition of a general and uniform school system," as stipulated under the state's constitution.

The law marks the first time that charter schools will be allowed in Washington state, being approved by voters in 2012 after being voted down in three previous elections. Washington is the 42nd state in the country to allow charter schools.

The Washington Education Association, a union that supported the lawsuit, released a statement saying the judge ruled the charter school law unconstitutional. But the state's attorney general, as well as the Washington State Charter Schools Association, interpreted the ruling very differently. They concluded that while one provision of the law was struck down, the majority of the law had been upheld. 

"The court has held the vast majority of the charter schools initiative constitutional, and the state will continue to implement this law," said state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, in a statement.

"We were thrilled with the ruling," said Lisa Macfarlene, the Washington state director of Democrats for Education Reform, which supports charter schools. "We wrote a good law, and we vetted it with constitutional law experts, and we've always been confident it will pass constitutional muster," she said in an interview with Education Week

It appears likely, however, that the legal battle will continue. Both proponents and opponents of the law expect the case will now be appealed to Washington's state Supreme Court.

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