Education Week - January 6, 2016 - (Page 6)

Wash. Ruling Could Inspire Charter Opponents Elsewhere " By Arianna Prothero Diverting money away from an already underfunded public school system makes no sense." RICH WOOD Washington Education Association Rachel La Corte/AP For an education movement that's grown exponentially over the past two decades and scored legislative and legal victories in more than 40 states, the Washington State Supreme Court's ruling in September that charter schools are unconstitutional is a major blow. Since then, national advocates have been weighing what impact that decision could have on charter schools in other states. Although the Washington Supreme Court doesn't have jurisdiction beyond its state, its ruling could provide a roadmap for charter school opponents elsewhere, they say. "As you look at the ruling and the decision, some of the questions that the court examined are tenets that are similar in state constitutions elsewhere," said Eric Paisner, the chief of staff at the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. "Until there's a specific lawsuit that's filed, there's no specific action we can take. We can do research to have a sense of where risk is." In Washington, however, local advocates and parents are scrambling to keep charters open. "I'm up to my eyeballs," said Jessica Garcia, whose daughter is attending one of the eight charter schools that opened weeks before the ruling came down. "We've been nonstop emailing representatives, making plans to host Students and charter advocates rally at the Capitol in Olympia, Wash., late last year, with the goal of halting the closure of charter schools in the wake of a state supreme court ruling. school tours and to dispel misinformation, but also going to their offices, being part of rallies at the capitol." In its original decision, the state's high court ruled that charter schools do not qualify as "common" schools- basically, public schools-in part because they are not governed by voter-elected school boards, but rather by appointed boards. Without that designation, charters weren't eligible for funding they expected to get, and the court reasoned that voters would never have approved the creation of charter schools in a 2012 ballot initiative if there was no money to pay for them. Then in November, the court refused to reconsider its decision after several parties, including state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, asked the court to re-examine its ruling. The court did, however, strike out a footnote in its earlier ruling that Ferguson flagged as inadvertently putting other publicly funded educational programs at risk, such as tribal compact schools. Seeking Legislative Fix Washington's nine charter schools continued to receive state funding pending an appeal, but with a final rejection from the high court's justices, the flow of money was expected to be shut off by mid-December. With the judicial path exhausted, advocates are now looking to the Washington legislature for a permanent fix and other stop-gap measures to keep charters open in the interim. "Internally, we've referred to it [tweaking the law] as a plumbing fix," said Thomas Franta, the chief executive officer of the Washington Charter Schools Association. "The root of the court's concern deals with the means by which money flows to public charter schools. We have a number of legislative champions that are putting forward a number of different options that we believe would ... accomplish the plumbing fix and ... meet constitutional scrutiny if there is ever a case down the road." Although there's no bill yet, Franta says there's support from lawmakers in both chambers and parties. But reworking the state's charter law isn't the only high-profile education issue facing lawmakers. Washington's Supreme Court ruled in 2012 in McCleary v. Washington that lawmakers were failing to adequately fund public education in the state, and went so far as to declare the legislature in contempt 6 | EDUCATION WEEK | January 6, 2016 | of court last August, levying a daily $100,000 fine on the state. In that context, fighting for a legislative fix to the charter school issue is a harmful distraction, said Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, which was a party to the court case. "I would hope, and we all hope, the legislature will focus on [funding schools under the McCleary ruling] rather than trying to resurrect an unconstitutional charter school law that has been thrown out by the supreme court," he said. "Diverting money away from an already underfunded public school system makes no sense." However things play out for charter supporters, Washington's legislative session doesn't start until later this month, state funding was expected to stop last month, and charter leaders are trying to figure out ways to keep schools open through the end of this school year. 'Alternative Learning Experience' One strategy-and the approach that most charters are pursuing, said Franta-is to contract with a district as "alternative learning experience" programs. That designation allows districts to sign contracts with outside groups to provide services such as online classes or programs for incarcerated youths. If all else fails, schools could be propped up by private dollars, said Franta. "The private funding option is still on the table, but we see it as the laststop backstop," he said. The legal limbo has taken a toll on families like Garcia's. Her 11-year-old daughter, Isadora, attends Destiny Charter Middle School-part of the Los Angles-based Green Dot network. "We're just wanting to keep an air of cohesiveness to our children's lives and education," she said. "But in the back of our mind as parents we're like, 'Do we need to have a plan B?' For a lot of us, we don't have a backup plan." Garcia says she refuses to return Isadora to her district school because she was not being challenged academically. Coverage of issues related to creating opportunities for all American students and their families to choose a quality school is supported by a grant from the Walton Family Foundation, at Education Week retains sole editorial control over the content of this coverage.

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 6, 2016

Education Week - January 6, 2016
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Wash. Ruling Could Inspire Charter Opponents Elsewhere
As New SAT Looms, Anxious Students Ramp Up Testing
Digital Directions: U.S. Ed-Tech Plan Calls Attention to ‘Digital-Use Divide’
Standards for Principals’ Bosses Sharpen Focus on Role
Blogs of the Week
Inside ESSA
High Stakes in Union-Fee Case Before Supreme Court
New K-12 Law Adds to Buzz as State Legislatures Set to Convene
Ed. Dept. Budget Sees Slight Boost In FY 2016 Deal
Blogs of the Week
Amanda VanDerHeyden, Matthew Burns, Rachel Brown, Mark R. Shinn, Stevan Kukic, Kim Gibbons, Ggeorge Batsche, & W. David Tilly: RTI Works (When It Is Implemented Correctly)
Ron Wolk: To Change Education, Change the Message
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Paul Herdman: As Feds Step Back, The First State Steps Up

Education Week - January 6, 2016