The Washington State Supreme Court has decided that charter schools are not “common schools,” and thus do not qualify for public funding under the Washington State constitution.
In 2012, a ballot initiative (I-1240) that passed by a margin of roughly 1% granted permission to introduce up to 40 charter schools in Washington. Resolving a legal battle that began in July 2013, the state Supreme Court found this to be incompatible with the state’s constitution, which holds that public funds must only be used for “common schools.”
Unlike public schools, charter schools are not run by locally elected school boards. Voters have no say in the administration of these schools. As a result, they do not qualify as common schools, and diverting money from public funds to these private institutions is clearly unconstitutional. As stated in the ruling: “because charter schools under 1-1240 are run by an appointed board or nonprofit organization and thus are not subject to local voter control, they cannot qualify as ‘common schools’ within the meaning of article IX.”
The 2012 initiative was an attempt to circumvent the legislative process and redefine “common schools” to include charter schools, even though, as the ruling states, “Under the Act, charter schools are devoid of local control from their inception to their daily operation.” For these reasons, the court found that “charter schools are not common schools despite the Act’s attempt to so designate them.”
Charter schools have long been supported by Republicans and the rich, especially the Koch Brothers, who have made it one of their pet projects. Under the pretense of providing more “choice” to children, what they actually do is take badly needed funds that should be going to public schools and give them to schools that lack public input and oversight, and often provide faith-based education. All of this is in keeping with the Republican Party’s war against basic social services and protection of human needs.
Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush has been a strong supporter of the charter system. He co-founded a charter school in Miami in 1996, but the school closed in 2008. He and other members of the Republican Party support the expansion of charter schools.
However, numerous scandals have been exposed in the charter school system. A report published in April showed “over $200 million in fraud and waste.” Recently, Ohio Governor and Republican candidate John Kasich found himself embroiled in controversy, as documents were released showing that members of the Ohio Department of Education, including David Hansen, husband of Kasich’s campaign manager Beth Hansen, had manipulated evaluations of charter schools. Unsurprisingly, Kasich’s top donors for his 2014 gubernatorial campaign were charter school officials.
The state Supreme Court’s decision guarantees that taxpayer dollars will not illegally be used to fund private schools. Kim Mead, president of the Washington Education Association, which participated in the suit, said, “The Supreme Court has affirmed what we’ve said all along — charter schools steal money from our existing classrooms, and voters have no say in how these charter schools spend taxpayer funding.”
As conservatives threaten to privatize everything from education to social security and medical care, it’s vital that we uphold constitutional protections for these basic human rights.
Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.