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Washington Charter School Bill to Become Law Without Governor's Signature

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Washington Governor Jay Inslee has said he will neither sign nor veto a bill reinstating charter schools, allowing the measure to become law on Sunday without his signature. 

The legislature passed a bill last month to resurrect the state's fledgling charter school sector six months after the Washington Supreme Court ruled the original law, passed by voter referendum in 2012, was unconstitutionalIt was the first time a state's high court has ruled wholesale against a charter law.

The court ruled that charters did not qualify as "common" schools—basically, public schools—because they were not overseen by locally elected school boards and, therefore, were not eligible to draw money from the general fund.

A bill championed by charter school advocates to revive the law was passed by the Republican-controlled Senate in January, but had stalled in the House education committee before Rep. Larry Springer, a Democrat, used a procedural maneuver to resuscitate the bill. 

The effort to restore the law met resistance from several groups, including the state's teachers' unions.

The measure, which directs charters to draw from a new funding source and layers more regulations on the schools, passed the legislature on the last day of the regular session. 

However, while voting on the bill, several lawmakers said they are concerned that without addressing the fact that charter schools are overseen by non-elected boards, the retooled law won't withstand the scrutiny of the state's high court.  

Should there be another lawsuit, the law might not prevail, Hugh Spitzer, a law professor at the University of Washington, told me for a story I wrote when the bill passed the legislature.

"It's possible that the opponents of this revised charter school system will be able to successfully argue that these charter schools are still not compliant with the general and uniform requirement" of the constitution, which was an argument the supreme court didn't fully address the first time around, Spitzer said.

Many state constitutions compel the state to provide a single and uniform system of public schools, a requirement that is often used to bring legal challenges to school choice programs.

The state's eight charter schools, which have remained open as specialized district programs and home-schooling centers since September, will be able to reopen as charters in time for the 2016-17 school year.

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