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Weeks after the start of a new school year, Washington State's high court ruled that it is unconstitutional to fund charter schools with money from public coffers. The ruling reignited a national debate, raging for decades, about the controversial hybrid form of education that borrows from both the public and private school systems.
The Washington court concluded that charters are not "common schools" and cannot receive public money. "A common school, within the meaning of our constitution, is one that is common to all children of proper age and capacity, free, and subject to and under the control of the qualified voters of the school district," the opinion stated. Diverting public moneys for institutions that do not meet this definition violates the state's constitution.
Best or Worst of Both Worlds
Charter schools have been controversial since the educational movement began about 25 years ago. Supporters say that these institutions, usually run by a board and housed in privately owned buildings, can help poor children in neighborhoods with bad public schools in districts ignored by politicians.
Meanwhile, critics point out that charters are not subject to the same regulations and restrictions as public institutions and divert critical funds from schools that serve the common good. Charters can be run by for-profit organizations and are considered private employers in most states.
"This ruling gives hope to parents all across America, who see charter schools draining funding from their public schools, favoring the privileges of the few over the rights of the many," Diane Ravitch, a New York University education historian, wrote on her blog. She has been a vocal critic of charter schools and told the Washington Post, "The public has no voice in management or oversight of charter schools; they are private with private boards. Where public money is involved, public oversight is necessary."
For the Children
There are nearly three million children in the U.S. who attend charter schools and the vast majority of states have passed laws allowing for these institutions. For the 1,200 students In Washington State who planned to attend charter schools, the fate of their education remains unknown while they wait for private sources to come up with the funding that the state must now withdraw.