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News / Northwest

State Supreme Court won’t reconsider charter school decision

Justices divided but deny requests regarding September ruling

Published: November 19, 2015, 7:27pm

SEATTLE — A divided Washington Supreme Court ruled Thursday it will not reconsider its ruling striking down the state charter school law.

In a one-page decision, the court denied all requests for reconsideration of its September ruling that the state’s charter school law is unconstitutional.

Two dissenting opinions were filed with four justices saying they would have liked to reconsider the decision. One dissent written by Justice Mary Yu expressed her belief that the court’s September decision needed clarification.

“The state and various amici have raised legitimate questions regarding the use of unrestricted funds and the power of the Legislature to act. These questions touch upon the impact of our decision on other public, non-common school programs,” Yu wrote. “We should be open to modifying the language in our decision for the sake of clarity.”

The court on Thursday also removed one footnote from its original ruling that some people argued would make other kinds of alternative schools ineligible for state dollars.

Seattle attorney Paul Lawrence, who represented the League of Women Voters and others in suing the state over charter schools, said the footnote was irrelevant to the rationale that the court used in ruling the 2012 charter law was unconstitutional.

“We’re obviously very pleased the Supreme Court decided to affirm what it previously decided,” Lawrence said.

Nine charter schools have opened in the state under the conditions of the 2012 law. They have continued to receive state funding, pending the court’s decision on the request for reconsideration.

Supporters of charter schools say they will find the money to keep those schools open this year even when state dollars stop flowing toward the independent public schools.

Hundreds of charter school students, parents and educators were in Olympia on Thursday to hold a rally outside the state Capitol and testify before a joint meeting of the Senate Education and Senate Ways & Means committees to encourage lawmakers to find a way to save their schools. The hearing ended before the Supreme Court decision was issued.

Katie Wilton, a ninth-grade student at Summit Olympus in Tacoma, called the Supreme Court ruling unfair and asked lawmakers to be courageous and do whatever they can to save her school.

“This goes against the will of Washington state voters,” Wilton said. “This is not how democracy is supposed to work.”

Senate Republicans’ budget writer, Sen. Andy Hill, said charter schools will be one of the biggest issues lawmakers deal with next session.

“We need to fix that glitch,” he said. “There are ways you can specify where funds for charter schools come from.”

Hill said the Supreme Court didn’t “say charter schools are good or bad, they said the way you’re paying for them is unconstitutional.”

He said that those opposed to charter schools should listen to Thursday’s testimony before the Senate committee.

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“I think the stories you heard from the students and the parents were pretty powerful,” he said. “If this is a choice that the parents and the students have made and to deny them from that … we’re not taking money away from public schools. School districts are getting the same number of dollars per student that they were before.”


AP Correspondent Rachel La Corte contributed to this story from Olympia.