A network of donors will step up if necessary to keep Washington state's nine charter schools open through the school year, a leading charter advocate said Tuesday, even if public dollars stop flowing in the wake of a state Supreme Court decision voiding Washington's charter school law.
Tom Franta, who heads the Washington State Charter Schools Association, said his organization has reached out to a network of something like 50 donors — whom Franta declined to identify — that can help cover the estimated $14 million necessary to cover all nine schools' operating costs through the end of the year.
The court's ruling — which held charter schools are not entitled to any public funding because they lack the oversight of elected boards — could potentially cut off state funding to the schools as soon as Sept. 24, according to the state's top charter official, Joshua Halsey.
But Franta says his organization is exploring legal maneuvers that would delay that funding cutoff. Charter association lawyers plan to file a motion asking state high court justices to reconsider their ruling. The association is also exploring whether they can appeal the ruling in federal courts.
"Today, these schools are public charter schools, and they will remain public charter schools until all our legal options are exhausted," Franta said Tuesday. "As they have that designation, they are entitled to public funds in the normal way."
In the wake of the ruling, eight of Washington's nine charter schools were open as regularly scheduled — including SOAR Academy in Tacoma, which held its first day of classes Tuesday. Leaders of Seattle's First Place Scholars Charter School said classes will begin as scheduled on Wednesday.
In addition to exploring contingency plans, the association and other charter advocates have been pressing Gov. Jay Inslee to ask lawmakers to meet in special session to find a way to keep public dollars flowing to charter schools. They've also criticized the timing of the court's decision, which justices handed down less than a month into a new school year.
"These schools are serving at-risk youth," said Halsey, who heads the Washington State Charter School Commission. "These at-risk youth need high-quality options available to them, and we also know how detrimental a transition for students is around their learning. If we can mitigate that transition for one year, at least, and hopefully more ... that's what we would want to see."
But the Washington Education Association — the state's largest teachers union and part of coalition that challenged the charter school law — cheered the court's ruling.
"The Supreme Court has affirmed what we’ve said all along – charter schools steal money from our existing classrooms, and voters have no say in how these charter schools spend taxpayer funding," said WEA president Kim Mead in a statement last week.