The Washington Charter Phoenix Rises

I have a love-hate relationship with the courts—a fact well known to my readers. From Douglas County vouchers to tire scraps in Missouri to Thompson union battles (even though logic eventually prevailed in that case) to decisions on teacher tenure and forced tribute payment by non-union members, I often find myself befuddled by the apparent lack of ability (desire?) on the part of some courts to do stuff that makes sense.

But even among all that silliness, one decision really stands out as the most surprising in the last couple of years: a decision by the Washington Supreme Court to declare the state’s charter school law unconstitutional. Huh?

I wrote last September about the unpleasant surprise that was the Washington Supreme Court’s charter school ruling. I simply couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of a court striking down something as firmly rooted as charter schools.

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, there are more than 6,700 public charter schools in America. Those schools serve 2.9 million kids across more than 40 states.  In Colorado alone, charters serve 108,000 kids—about 12 percent of all public school kids in the state—in 226 schools. Charter laws have been around for more than 25 years. Until Washington, the laws had withstood legal challenges in every state where they’d been brought, including Colorado.

Charter schools are not some new-fangled experiment or radical idea. They are an inerasable part of the American public school system. Well, except in Washington, where a panel of unelected judges decided that an obscure ruling from 1909 provided enough of a legal platform to outlaw them entirely. Or at least they thought that would be the result.

As it turns out, the desire for choice in education is a hard thing to kill. As I’ve said before, the war for choice is already over. It’s just a matter of time until the last remnants of the anti-choice sand castle crumble under the ever-expanding wave of educational choice. If you need additional evidence, look no further than Washington’s charter school phoenix, which even now is rising out of the court-created ashes.

That’s right. Washington recently passed a new version of its charter law that bypasses the Washington Supreme Court’s decision by drawing money from a different source. More specifically, the schools will now be funded by the state lottery rather than the general fund, which gets around the restriction on state general funding of charter schools (don’t ask me how exactly it does that, I’m no Washington lawyer).

Oh, you hadn’t heard the news? I’m not surprised. The new law wasn’t exactly adopted with pomp and circumstance. In fact, Governor Inslee refused to sign or veto the bill, simply allowing it to become law without his input one way or the other. Apparently, that’s something you can do in Washington if you happen to lack the political spine to stand for or against something. It’s the first time a Washington governor has taken this passive route for 35 years. I’m sure the decision had nothing to do with Inslee’s reelection campaign, or the fact that he was recently endorsed by the Washington Education Association’s Political Action Committee—the self-proclaimed largest PAC in the state.

Grudgingly enacted or not, choice lives on in Washington despite the establishment’s best efforts to kill it. I applaud Washington’s legislators for doing the right thing for kids rather than siding with the union. I’ll go home today smiling about the bright futures that lie ahead for the state’s charter kids.

But the price of liberty is eternal vigilance, and already the union is rumbling about taking another stab at Washington’s charters. I don’t know exactly how that fight will play out, but I do know one thing: Freedom for parents and students will prevail in the end. The tide always wins.

Have a great weekend, and see you next week!