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Challenge to Charter-School Law in Wash. State Now in Judge's Hands

A county judge in Washington state is slated to rule on the validity of the law voters approved last year allowing charter schools to begin operating, after hearing arguments from its friends and foes on Nov. 22.

The challenge to the law comes from several groups, including the Washington Education Association, the Washington Association of School Administrators, and the League of Women Voters, among others. What's their case?

 I wrote about the lawsuit when it first cropped up, but to recap: These groups argue that the law violates the state constitution because it interferes with the state's obligation to pay for public schools by diverting what would otherwise be straightforward public-school dollars to private organizations permitted to run charters in the state. In addition, these groups argue that state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn should have ultimate oversight of charters, not the Washington State Charter School Commission (created by Initiative 1240's passage last year). 

So far, there have been 19 applications in the Evergreen State to begin charters. Why do the law's proponents say those efforts should continue? State Assistant Attorney General Dave Stolier argued that in fact, the charter law is backed by a ruling from the state Supreme Court in January 2012. That ruling dealt with a school-finance case, but Stolier said that the judges told the state "to innovate and change to meet the needs of Washington children," and that the law is an appropriate response to that directive. (The state is seeking a summary judgment to have the suit tossed out of court.) CLARIFICATION: The preceding quote regarding innovation and change is not a direct quote from the judges' 2012 ruling. It is how the AP characterizes Stolier's views. 

"There's just not enough here to overturn the voters' will in this case," Stolier said.

In case you're wondering, the actual language of the state constitution's section regarding education says the legislature "shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools." The constitution also says the state must provide for common schools, as well as technical and other kinds of public schools, "But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools."

Earlier this year, groups opposed to the law asked state Attorney General Bob Ferguson to look into their allegations about the law's constitutional problems, but he presaged Stolier's remark by saying that he was inclined to respect voters' approval of Initiative 1240. Rietschel indicated that it may be some time before she issues a ruling. 

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