While Seattle Turns Into Hotspot for Charter School Activity, Judge Hears Lawsuit

Even as the state passed a key milestone for green-lighting charter schools on Friday, a judge heard arguments in a lawsuit trying to block the controversial schools from getting off the ground.

The suit, filed by a coalition of groups and individuals including the state teachers union and the League of Women Voters, is now awaiting a ruling by King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel.

The coalition is arguing that charter schools violate the state constitution because, according to the complaint, they are “operated by private non-profit corporations, are not subject to voter control, and are exempt from a wide array of state laws and rules applicable to schools districts.”

Superintendent Public Instruction Randy Dorn is on record agreeing with this point of view, and in fact made noises about filing a lawsuit himself. He didn’t have to, because the suit brings up his main point of contention. Although he is elected to oversee all public schools in the state, charter school don’t fall under his domain (nor that of the state Board of Education). Instead a newly established Charter School Commission, housed in the governor’s office, is vetting applications and has responsiblity for overseeing the new schools.

The complaint also points out that the charter school initiative, narrowly passed by voters last year, mandates the distribution of state funds for charters without considering the “economic impact” on all the other public schools. This is a particularly significant argument given the recent McLeary Supreme Court decision, which found that the state is already failing to meet its financial obligation to public schools.

But the state assistant attorney general charged with defending the charter school law is arguing that charters are in line with McLeary because they provide innovation needed to better serve kids. He’s also pointing out that a ruling stopping charters in their tracks would overturn the will of voters, which is not something judges are inclined to do lightly.

One thing’s certain, the outcome of the suit will have ramifications for Seattle. If there’s one place in the state charter opposition runs strong, it’s here. The city’s school board voted to oppose the charter initiative, and it lost in King County.

Yet, on Friday, the deadline for submitting applications to start charter schools, Seattle emerged as a hotspot of would-be activity. Of the 19 applications received by the Charter School Commission, six are for schools intending to locate in this city.

I’ve written about a few of these applicants before: First Place, which already exists as a private school serving homeless children; Summit Public Schools, a Silicon-based group that uses technology-heavy “blended learning;” and Hannah Williams, a former teacher who wants to create a school wihtout walls in a Pioneer Square warehouse.

Others include one Lance Weber, who wants to start a school for immigrants and other at-risk students; Anab Abdi, who is also targeting English language learners; and Julie Troletti, who is proposing a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) school.

So unless the lawsuit is successful, Seattleites will soon be hearing a lot more about charter school.

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