Judge Rietschel approves charter school law

December 12, 2013

This morning Judge Jean Rietschel upheld Initiative 1240, the voters’ charter school law, clearing the way for Washington’s first charter schools to open next fall.  Her ruling rejects claims made by Washington Education Association, the state teachers union, and the League of Women Voters, that Initiative 1240 violates the state constitution.

Judge Rietschel held the charter law is part of the constitution’s general and uniform system of schools, because the law does not require all schools to be identical.  She did hold that the provisions of the charter law which describe charter schools as common schools are unconstitutional, for lack of local voter control, making them ineligible to receive state matching funds for construction. However, she severed these provisions of the law, allowing the Washington State Charter School Commission and Spokane Public Schools to proceed with their work to open charter schools to Washington’s students next fall.  

This report is part of Washington Policy Center's I-1240 Follow-up Project 


Who cares?

It doesn't really matter what Judge Rietschel said in her opinion because this thing is going to the State Supreme Court and they will decide it. This decision didn't matter. The judge knew it, the attorney general knew it, the plaintiffs knew it, everyone knew it. It is impossible for serious people to talk about this decision as if it were important.

The Judge left the door wide open

First, and foremost, Judge Rietschel found parts of the law unconstitutional. There is NO disputing that.

It does not stop charters from moving forward but what a big problem.

They are not "common schools" under our state constitution according to her. That likely means - and the Attorney General and state legislators do not dispute this - that charters are not eligible for state funding. How much is up in the air but it could include state education funding. That Ross Hunter said they could find the money somewhere else is indicates the worry in that area. But what special pot of money is there? Or, what will be cut in the budget so charters can open? There's an interesting question.

All during the 1240 campaign we were told a couple of things.

That this was the "best" charter law in the country. If a judge can find parts unconstitutional, not so much.

And we were told that charter schools would be common schools just as real public schools are. Not according to the judge.

Finally, she said that for other parts of the law it's too soon to challenge those provisions but that leaves the door open to a challenge. I suspect the conversion charters provision will be struck down. There is no other one like it in the entire country and there's reason for that.

It's clear this law was not written with OUR state constitution in mind. Our constitution is unique in the country as to how public education is viewed. If someone had bothered to read it before creating the initiative, they might not have the issues that are before us now.

I'm sure this is not over by a long shot. If I were a charter applicant, I'd be worried about any investment.

"Her ruling rejects claims

"Her ruling rejects claims .....that Initiative 1240 violates the state constitution."

"She did hold that the provisions of the charter....law are unconstitutional"

These are two contradictory statements.