King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel ruled Thursday that Washington's charter school initiative, which was passed in 2012, can continue to move forward.
Rietschel did find that the part of the designating charter schools as a "common school" was unconstitutional. That means charter schools may not be eligible for funding sources only open to common schools.
The Washington Education Association responded to the ruling by tweeting that the judge ruled that charter schools were unconstitutional because they aren't acceptable to voters.
However, the judge left most of the initiative intact, upholding it against all other challenges.
The state attorney general’s office, representing the people of Washington, argued the charter law enhances education and does not circumvent anything in the constitution or the court decisions that have clarified sections on education.
"As attorney general, it is my job to defend the will of the voters," Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. "The court has upheld the vast majority of the charter schools initiative constitutional, and the state will continue to implement the law."
The first schools are scheduled to open in fall 2014.
Ultimately, questions of the constitutionality of charter schools will likely be answered by the state Supreme Court, proponents and opponents say.
Lisa Macfarlane of the Washington State Charter Schools Association said that’s a ruling on a technical aspect law that’s not currently relevant.
Charter school opponents, represented by Attorney Paul Lawrence, say the law passed by voters is unconstitutional because it interferes with the state’s obligation to pay for public schools, set a uniform curriculum and establish other rules.
Lawrence also argued the law takes authority granted by the constitution away from the superintendent of public instruction and from the Legislature. Rietschel, however, did not agree with those challenges.
The state’s charter school system was approved by voters in 2012. Washington became the 42nd state to allow the independent public schools. The initiative campaign succeeded in part because of money from Seattle’s tech economy - Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates donated $3 million, outside his charitable foundation, first for the signature gathering effort and later to promote the initiative. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen donated $1.5 million.