In a ruling issued today (pdf), King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel has tossed out the heart of Washington State's charter schools law on the grounds that it violates the constitutional provision that state education revenues be "exclusively applied to the support of the common schools."
But, Judge Rietschel concludes: "A charter school cannot be defined as a common school because it is not under the control of the voters of the school district. The statute places control under a private non-profit organization, a local charter board and/or the Charter Commission."
In other words, charter schools may not be funded with state dollars dedicated to funding our state's common schools.
This is a big, though not unexpected loss for charter schools proponents. The initiative's effort to classify charter schools as common schools always seemed a bit of a legal stretch. I'll have some more thoughts after further study.
Both parties asked for and received summary judgement, and given the urgency of the case, it will likely be appealed directly to the state supreme court.
UPDATE: I just saw the Seattle Times headline that claims that "Judge upholds most of state charter school law." I'm not sure how they come to that conclusion. Judge Rietschel ruled that charter schools are not common schools, and Article IX, Section 2 of the Washington State Constitution is quite clear:
SECTION 2 PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM. The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.
Unless I'm missing something, that would seem to rule out state funding. And I'm not sure how charter schools work without it.
Second, on many of those elements of the law Judge Reitschel did not toss out, she didn't as much uphold them as merely rule that the plaintiff's arguments were not justiciable because the provision in question has not yet been implemented, or because the plaintiffs did not make "a sufficient showing for facial invalidity."
So I'm sticking with my headline.
UPDATE, UPDATE: To clarify, the "state tax for common schools" which Article IX, Section 2 refers to appears to be the state portion of the property tax, about $2 billion a year, almost a quarter of state public school funding. (Though personally, I'd argue that language could be read more broadly to include all state taxes spent for common schools.) The "common school fund" is a separate fund that funds construction.