Washington State House Democrats


Why Running Start is not in jeopardy from Supreme Court’s charter school decision.

The Washington Supreme Court decision striking down the charter school initiative as unconstitutional because it sends public school funding directly to unaccountable private charter schools does not jeopardize our state’s Running start program, under which high school students enroll for dual credit in local community and technical college courses.

Charter school advocates are urging reconsideration of the Washington Supreme Court decision because of their claim that it jeopardizes the Running Start program. They are utterly wrong.

Impacting Running Start is a red herring argument which Court majority did not fall for. The Court majority rejected arguments based on the claim that Running Start would be impacted.

The Court held that, because charter schools have no accountability to the elected school boards, they are not public, or “common”, schools:

“Here, because charter schools under 1-1240 are run by an appointed board or nonprofit organization and thus are not subject to local voter control, they cannot qualify as “common schools” within the meaning of article IX.” – Court Majority at 11.

The Court then proceeded to analyze and find that the element of accountability to an elected school board is central to constitutionality for use of common school funds; and, also that “the absence of local control by voters would also violate the article IX uniformity requirement.” – Id ftnte 10.

Running Start funds are appropriated on a case load basis TO THE DISTRICTS, under control of the elected school boards, for Running Start payments to community colleges. Districts and the community college are limited to claiming no more than 1.2 FTE combined for each student. The point is that the funds go to the school district (for example see Seattle Public Schools (SPS) budget at 54 and 57.

There are plenty of REQUIRED expenditures by districts to non-district educational providers. That does not even come close to the constitutional problem of the state allocating public / common school funds directly to an entity (charter school) without any elected district oversight.

Districts and schools can reach agreements for the school to be part of the district, just as some nonprofits or other entities have agreements to provide a service to the district. That is called local control.

OSPI has a bulletin illustrating how Running Start funds go from the state to the school district (with its elected school board) and then to the college, with local control in the form of agreements to compensate the district:

“Pursuant to WAC 392-169-090 at least ninety-three (93%) percent of the state funding generated from the Running Start enrollment and received by the district is forwarded to the college. The district retains up to seven (7%) percent of the Running Start funding… Since districts assume additional costs in hosting Running Start classes in a high school setting, districts are allowed to negotiate recovery of the cost of the district instructor’s salary and facility use through the interlocal agreement with the college.” – OSPI, Bulletin 028-14, June 5, 2014.
The constitutional flaw in the charter school initiative, of course, is that our elected school boards have no oversight and no control over the use of local levy funds or state funding that the initiative would divert straight to the charter school, under the control of a private board (including corporate boards based in California).

The regulation (WAC) referred to above clearly indicates that, while Running Start funds are “basic education” funds, the funds go to the school districts, under control of the elected school boards:

“(2) The superintendent of public instruction shall apportion running start basic education moneys to school districts reporting running start enrollments…”

The district then, by agreement with the community college, transfers at least 93% of the funds to pay for the enrollees.

Unlike charter schools, Running Start basic education funds go to the school district, whose elected board has to approve an agreement with the community or technical college about the level of reimbursement for students receiving Running Start services from PUBLIC institutions.

It is entirely up to a local school district and its elected board to choose to use district school facilities for Running Start in the High School programs. This stands in stark contrast to the unconstitutional requirement under the charter school initiative that districts have to turn over school district properties to charter schools and provide levy funds for charter school use without any school board agreement, oversight or qualifications.

Skills centers and funding for some other specialty or vocational schools are also not at risk from the Court’s decision. Their funds are also distributed to school districts for payment to the centers and ESDs via agreements and budgets approved by elected school boards (e.g., see page 35 of SPS budget, linked above).

Running Start shouldn’t be in jeopardy from the Court’s ruling. There may be other programs that require examination and restructuring if they send basic education funds to a private entity that has no public accountability. That seems healthy.