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Washington's New Charter School Law May Face Lawsuit By Teachers' Union

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By Arianna Prothero. Cross-posted from the Charters & Choice blog.

The Washington Education Association, a statewide teachers' union, says it plans to help file a lawsuit challenging the state's latest charter school law.

Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, allowed a bill that restores funding to the state's charter schools to pass into law over the weekend without his signature.

The Washington Supreme Court in September ruled that the original law, passed by voter referendum in 2012, was unconstitutional. The court argued 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.

Charter school advocates championed the bill that eventually passed, which directs charters to draw from a new funding source and layers more regulations on the schools.

But the Washington Education Association, which helped spearhead the first lawsuit, said in a statement Thursday evening that there are two major flaws with the new law: It still does not require enough oversight from publicly elected officials, and it still diverts money from district schools, even though it's drawing from a separate pool of money.

The lawsuit will also ask the courts to clarify the use of Alternative Learning Experiences, programs that allow school districts to contract with outside providers to offer specialized services. Several charter schools remained open after the supreme court's ruling as ALE programs under the Mary Walker School District in Springdale, Wash.

"This law still does not meet our state's rigorous standards for funding, accountability or public education," said WEA President Kim Mead in the statement. "It shortchanges the more than one million public school students who are still waiting for the state to meet its constitutional obligation to them and their education."

The same year the first charter law was passed by voters, the state's supreme court ruled in a case called McCleary v. Washington that lawmakers were failing to adequately fund public education. Last August, it declared the legislature in contempt of court, and levied a daily $100,000 fine on the state. Lawmakers failed to resolve the issues raised in McCleary this session, instead passing legislation committing lawmakers to design and approve a plan for satisfying the court next year. 

The WEA is joining a coalition that includes several other state labor unions to bring the lawsuit, which it said could take up to two months to file.

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Contact Sarah Tully at [email protected].

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