After Ruling, Washington Charter Schools Adjust, Look to Future


Washington’s first charter school is set to return to being a tuition-free private school as the result of a decision by the state Supreme Court.

All nine charter schools in the state have been searching for ways to stay in operation after losing a decision by the state Supreme Court that found the charter school law to be unconstitutional. They lost their state funding, although they did retain the ability to obtain money and donations from the public.  Last week eight of the schools opted to become Alternative Learning Experiences under the umbrella of the Mary Walker School District in Eastern Washington.

Meanwhile, First Place, who enrolls 106 students between kindergarten and fifth grade, said it had received a grant allowing it to stay open for the remainder of the school year without state funding.

The school had previously been a private school that enrolled homeless and other vulnerable students in Seattle’s Central District before becoming the first charter school in the state last year.

However, the transition back to private school will not be a seamless one, as parents and school staff members have voiced their frustrations over the leadership on the school’s board through a failed attempt to force out board President Dawn Mason last month.  More recently, rumors began that the board was pushing for the school’s principal, Linda Whitehead, to resign.

Meanwhile, Mason maintains that the board would like to see the school’s staff members and board leadership to remain the same, saying the goal is to make the transition to an independent school be as easy as possible, writes Donna Gordon Blankinship for The Seattle Times.

But after a closed-door session earlier this week, the board voted to oust Whitehead, who will continue her position through the end of the current month.  According to Whitehead, the board had told her she could either resign or they would call a public meeting.  Whitehead joined the First Place board in November 2014 and then became the school’s principal.

Washington voters approved charter schools in 2012.  Since then, over 1,200 students and families have opted to enroll in the nine schools in existence in the state.  It will ultimately be left to lawmakers to create a long-term solution for the schools by either changing the funding plan or rewriting state law to allow charters to operate under the state constitution, reports Teresa Yuan for KING5 News.

A coalition looking to preserve charter schools in the state have been pushing money toward state lawmakers, contributing over $20,000 to multiple campaign accounts before the fundraising deadline last week.  The group, created by Democrats for Education Reform, the League of Education Voters, Stand for Children and the Washington State Charter Schools Association, would like to see lawmakers fix the funding mechanism that was recently ruled to be unconstitutional.

The coalition said it is continuing to raise funds and expects to have over $500,000 by the end of the legislative session.