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AG to ask Supreme Court to reconsider charter school ruling

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Published: September 11, 2015, 2:34pm

OLYMPIA — Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Friday that his office will ask the state Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling that Washington state’s voter-approved charter-school law is unconstitutional.

In a written statement, Ferguson said that the motion for reconsideration will be filed by Sept. 24.

In a 6-3 ruling issued late last week, the court ruled that the privately operated, publicly funded charter schools that were created under a voter-approved initiative do not qualify as common schools under Washington’s Constitution and thus cannot receive public funding. The high court’s opinion was set to take effect later this month, but will be put on hold until the court rules on the state’s request for reconsideration. There is no timeline on when the court may rule on the request.

Ferguson said he discussed his decision with Gov. Jay Inslee earlier in the day.

“The decision not only invalidates Initiative 1240, but also unnecessarily calls into question the constitutionality of a wide range of other state educational programs,” the statement said. “These important programs range from Running Start to Washington State Skills Centers that provide career and technical education to high school students.”

Initiative 1240 passed with 50.7 percent of the vote in 2012, making Washington the 42nd state to approve charter schools. The measure provided for the opening of as many as 40 charter schools within five years. The first opened last fall. This school year, eight more have opened, with classes beginning over the past few weeks.

The state teachers union and the League of Women Voters were among the groups that challenged the law. They argued charter schools were siphoning money that would otherwise go to traditional public schools. Washington is facing sanctions from the Supreme Court, in a separate case known as the McCleary lawsuit, for failing to adequately pay for those schools, which serve 1 million schoolchildren.

In her majority opinion, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen cited precedent from 1909 in ruling that charter schools are not common schools because they are controlled by a charter school board — not by local voters. She further rebuffed an argument from the state that the charter schools could be paid for from the general fund rather than money specifically intended for public schools, because the state doesn’t segregate the funds and thus doesn’t have a way to ensure restricted money isn’t spent on charter schools.

The chief executive of the charter schools association, an advocacy group for the schools, has said that all nine current charter schools have committed to remaining open for the year, even if that means relying on private donations. The schools are in Spokane, Tacoma, Kent, Highline and Seattle.

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