Walla Walla charter school on hold after court ruling

Less than four weeks after receiving state approval for a charter school to open next year, progress on Walla Walla’s Willow School was halted after last week’s state Supreme Court decision ruled such schools cannot receive state funds.

“I was shocked and disappointed in the ruling,” Willow executive director Dan Calzaretta said. “I believe the issue is not about charter schools. And (state justices) said that in their ruling, that it is about setting a precedent that charter schools cannot receive state school funds.”

In the 6-3 ruling, the state’s highest court ruled that portions of Initiative 1240 – the 2012 voter approved initiative that allocated up to 40 charter schools be established statewide – violated the state’s constitution in the use of public funds. The ruling stated charter schools do not quality as “common” schools and therefore cannot receive funding intended for such traditional public schools.

The ruling has resulted in Willow staff halting their search for a future school site and its 2016 enrollment drive, which was supposed to start in the next few weeks.

“That is all on hold at this point because we really feel our efforts need to be elsewhere,” Calzaretta said.

He said a community meeting was planned for Thursday to rally in support of charter school funding and against the Supreme Court decision.

“We are encouraging all our supporters to contact the governor’s office and to contact their Legislature and let them know how this impacts them and their families and the future of their children,” Calzaretta said.

Across the state, similar rallies are expected to take place this week, especially in communities with established charter schools where parents are left guessing if and when their children’s charter schools will lose funding.

The court ruling has been lambasted by charter school supporter for having come only a couple weeks after school started.

In its statement released Sunday, the Washington State Charter School Commission said the “negative implications of this ruling are compounded by its dreadful timing, this past Friday, as close to 1,000 of our state’s most at-risk students in eight charter schools are just beginning their school year.”

The case against the charter schools was brought on by the League of Women Voters, Washington Association of School Administrators and the Washington Education Association, among others.

In her concurring statement, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen noted the case wasn’t over the merits of charter schools but the funding mechanisms and what the state constitution allowed.

Madsen added that charter schools are not subject to the rules that school district must follow in the areas of scheduling, personnel, funding and educational programs.

In her dissenting statement, Justice Mary Fairhurst wrote charter schools do receive review by nonprofit boards and the Commission, and she noted that the schools are not private but open to all interested students.