Fate of Washington's 11 charter schools in hands of State Supreme Court

OLYMPIA, Wash. — The Washington State Supreme Court is set once again to decide the fate of charter schools.  Students and supporters of the state’s 11 charter schools packed the chambers on Thursday to hear the arguments.  The lawsuit from La Raza, the Washington Education Association, and others claims charter schools are unconstitutional.

Paul Lawrence, attorney for La Raza, argued in part charter schools are illegal because they don't answer to a locally elected school board.

“They make significant changes to how teachers are paid,” he said.  “Which is both a McCleary issue and a collective bargaining issue.”

In 2015 the Supreme Court ruled charter schools unconstitutional, but the Legislature came up with a fix by funding them out of the state lottery instead of the general fund.

Former state Attorney General Rob McKenna argued for the public charter schools.

“Washington state's voters and then the Legislature have both voted to add charter schools as options available to our students who are at risk,” He said.

Part of the argument is whether charter schools get special treatment outside of the traditional public school model.  McKenna argued they have the same rights as Tribal schools.

“In short, they meet all the requirements for public education the Legislature has specified,” he said.  “And more generally they meet the general uniform education this court has specified.”

Outside the chambers charter school supporters touted how they help kids with special needs like Jalen Johnson, a Summit Sierra junior who was diagnosed with ADHD and autism.

“Today college is well within my reach,” Johnson said.  “To say this year has transformed me is no exaggeration.”

Heidi Mitchell spoke about how her son, J.D., saw vast improvements in a charter school.

“Every student deserves a great public school,” she said.  “And for thousands of families like mine, charter schools provide just that.”

Inside the chambers the opposition closed out by saying charter schools are just not legal.

“Charter schools are successfully identified as different,” Lawrence argued.  “But they are simply not allowed under Article 9 of the constitution.”

The nine supreme court justices will now weigh the arguments.  They don't have a timeline for when they'll decide, but KIRO 7 will let you know when they do.

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