Charter School Jurisprudence and the Democratic Ideal

By Tara Raam

This Note will explore the implications of recent charter school legislation on democratic principles in the context of public education. In 2015, the Washington Supreme Court held, in League of Women Voters of Washington v. State, that charter schools are not “common schools.” Thus, the court proscribed the application of state funds designated for “common schools” towards supporting charter schools. Part II provides background on the development of charter schools and describes the Washington Supreme Court’s decision in League of Women Voters, particularly the Court’s reliance on its 1909 interpretation of the Washington constitution’s “common schools” principle in School District No. 20 v. Bryan, as well as the legislative response to League of Women Voters and subsequent lawsuit. Part III argues that evolving views of school governance necessitate a reading of the Bryan requirements that is more sensitive to the democratic ideals of participation, deliberation, and accountability underlying Bryan. Recognizing the League of Women Voters interpretation of Bryan as the only appropriate means of voter control of public schools would have harmful and far-reaching effects not contemplated by the Bryan court on public schools across the United States. Part IV challenges whether a system of state-authorized charter schools can achieve the democratic ideal, and ultimately offers a portfolio of school options as one possible democratic solution.

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