By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly
Twelve families of students of Washington state charter schools have intervened in a lawsuit filed by several unions and organizations against the state of Washington. The parents are seeking to join the state in defending a charter public school law enacted this past year.
“We have a significant problem with education in this state,” said Shirline Wilson. Her 12-year-old son, Myles, attends Rainier Prep, a charter school in Seattle. “That problem lies in an inequity in the public school system.”
Wilson explained that Myles was “performing well-below grade level.” She indicated that they were not able to access special services. “We went to an independent school and paid out of pocket,” Wilson explained. “It was very unsuccessful.” Myles spent two years in public school and Wilson noted that her son was “woefully behind.”
Turning to Rainier Prep, Wilson noted an improvement in her son’s learning and attributes it to the charter school.
The plaintiffs in El Centro de la Raza v. State of Washington, filed earlier this summer, are seeking to overturn a law that would provide state funding to charter schools. The lawsuit seeks to do away with the initiative, as it is viewed as unconstitutional.
“We see the lawsuit as a cynical threat,” stated Tom Franta, CEO of the Washington State Charter Schools Association (WA Charters). WA Charters is a statewide nonprofit organization committed to empowering parents and students by supporting the startup of high-quality public charter schools, according to its website. According to court rules, a party may intervene in an existing lawsuit if they believe that they have an interest in the lawsuit in which the result may impact them. Here, the families would be affected if funding would be taken away from charter schools, including Summit Sierra High School in the International District.
Franta notes that two-thirds of charter schools serve students of color and two-thirds of kids qualify for free or reduced priced meals. According to Franta, charter schools make a concerted effort to meet the needs of those particular communities.
“Hallmarks of what marks a charter school is additional flexibility,” Franta said.
Jalen Johnson, who attends Summit Sierra, agreed. “The fostering community of Summit really embodies who and what I want to be as a person. Summit as a whole is a loving, caring and creative community. I love going to school every day!”
In 2015, the Washington state Supreme Court ruled that a voter-approved initiative which funded charter schools violated the Washington constitution and was struck down. The main argument, made by those opposing the initiative, was that charter schools are run by an appointed board or nonprofit organization, and thus are not subject to local voter control. It also diverts moneys to charter schools.
Another initiative which seeks to fund charter schools passed this year. Rich Wood, a spokesperson for the Washington Education Association (WEA), one of the groups bringing the lawsuit in El Centro de la Raza, believes that the new law diverts public funding from public schools to private schools. “We have an obligation to all of our state’s children,” Wood said.
Wood believes that the intervention of families of the charter school students will delay the eventual result. “We think it is important that this issue is decided as quickly as possible.”
WEA represents 90,000 public school teachers and support staff across the state.
WEA’s decision to file this lawsuit was to ensure that all children have the opportunity to have a public education guaranteed by the state constitution. They want to ensure that Washington is not violating its state constitution.
The complaint asks the court issue an injunction, to prohibit the state from diverting funds to pay for charter schools.
On the other end of the spectrum, families believe their children are receiving educational help that they could not in public schools.
“Summit [Sierra] prepares [me] for college, puts me on my own path to success, whatever that may be,” said Johnson. “I believe I am receiving a much better education than the one I would have received had I gone to a public school.”
Wilson who has two older children, noted that the idea that her youngest could graduate from high school not ready for college concerned her. She has been an active advocate for her son and volunteered to be a named individual in the lawsuit to intervene. “Part of advocacy is to care about more than a family situation,” explained Wilson. “I believe that sometimes we get in these policy discussions and don’t realize that they are real life and real children at stake.”
In addition to Wilson and Johnson, Gahyun “Sunny” Lee is a named intervenor on behalf of her son, Wonoh, and daughter, Yulan, who attend Tacoma’s Destiny Middle School.
Jason can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.