The Charter Law: Standing Test of Time in the Courts

The recent Washington state Supreme Court decision that struck down a 2012 voter-approved charter school law as unconstitutional raises this question: has this happened elsewhere?

No. No other state court has ever thrown out an entire charter law.

Nelson Smith, who was CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools when I served on their Founding Board, had a helpful blogpost on this. He notes only two other cases where elements of chartering were struck down by courts.

In Georgia, the courts found that its original state charter commission violated its constitution. That was because the Georgia legislature vests education authority in local school districts rather than the state—something unique to Georgia. How ironic that this court case ultimately resulted in strengthening the charter law in Georgia. It motivated a vigorous campaign to restore the charter commission by amending the constitution in a statewide charter referendum—and the amendment passed by a sizable voter margin.

Florida’s highest court also threw out its state-level “Florida Schools of Excellence Commission” on constitutional grounds. But Florida still is one of the fastest-growing chartering states in the nation.

These cases are exceptions. As Smith notes, nearly all challenges to the charter school law across the country have been unsuccessful—and there have been many! Do charter schools violate the constitutional requirement of “efficient” or “uniform” system of public schools? 13 states have that constitutional language. The courts of California, Colorado, and Ohio said NO—charters are subject to the same standards and graduation requirements as other public schools.

Challenges over lack of voter-control were defeated in Ohio, Michigan, Colorado, and California. Are charters a diversion of public school funds? NO said the courts in Ohio and New Jersey.

It’s too bad that students can’t be heard in the courtroom. They might ask this question: why are we spending all this money on lawyers when we need better technology right here in our classroom?