A courtroom is a place in which litigants debate, contest and resolve pressing legal matters. It is not a forum for political fodder and gamesmanship, although that principle will be tested in the case of El Centro de la Raza v. Washington state.
On Nov. 4, a judge considered whether plaintiffs suing the state and attempting to invalidate the bipartisan effort to save charter public schools can bring forth the politically motivated arguments that represent the very core of their case. Also in question is whether the lobbying organizations — El Centro de la Raza, the Washington Education Association and the League of Women Voters — can use the lawsuit to rehash policy arguments that have already been settled, both at the ballot box and in the Legislature.
Make no mistake, El Centro is not meant to address unresolved legal issues, and it is certainly not meant to help students or improve their education. Rather, this case distracts, obfuscates and undermines the very foundation of our public education system.
Charter public schools are now vital to our education system, serving nearly 1,700 students across the state in historically underserved communities. But the plaintiffs want these public schools to close, with no thought of the families who proudly chose to send their kids to them.
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This is El Centro’s fatal flaw: its own disregard for Washington voters, parents and students.
Washington voters and elected leaders support charter public schools. Why? Because they work, and they work well. It’s why, time and time again, families vote with their feet and send their children to charters. It’s why when our state Supreme Court questioned the constitutionality of charters, the people of Washington fought for a new law that ensured a future for charters in the state.
As parents, we know that a one-size-fits-all approach is rarely, if ever, effective in addressing the individual needs of our children. Charter public schools provide families an opportunity to choose what is best for their children; sometimes because their community school has stagnated, and sometimes because they crave a personalized approach to education that high-quality charters have reliably demonstrated they can provide. Families need more choice and opportunity, not less.
This month, I stood in court with charter school parents and students who would be most impacted by this case. These are our friends and our neighbors who love their schools and believe that our education system needs to continue to provide quality education to all.
It’s time for us all to spend less time in the courtroom and more time focused on the classroom.
And, it’s time we recognize that the war over charters has already been fought and won.
Thomas Franta is the CEO of the Washington State Charter Schools Association, a statewide nonprofit that advocates for public charter schools.