Are charter schools public? Washington court says no

This month’s Washington Supreme Court ruling on charter schools should at the very least spark discussion of whether charter schools are public schools.

In a 6-3 decision, the court said they aren’t. It reasoned that the lack of local control and accountability means charters don’t qualify as “common schools” in the language of the state constitution.

The court found that “if a school is not controlled by a public body, then it should not have access to public funds,” writes Wayne Au, a plaintiff on the case. “The logic is simple and compelling, and opponents of public school privatization in this country need to spread that message far and wide.”

Charter supporters insist, of course, that charter schools are public schools. The argument goes something like this: Charter schools receive public funds and don’t charge tuition. They enroll all students for whom there’s room. And charter school laws are enacted by elected legislators.

But in Indiana, over 300 private schools get public funding in the form of vouchers, often enough to cover the full cost of tuition. No one argues that they are now public schools. And charter schools may be open to all, but they tend to attract students whose parents are savvy enough to apply and enter enrollment lotteries and have the means to provide their children with transportation.

The big difference, though, is public control. Continue reading