If charter schools are to have a future in our state, the state House Democrats and Jay Inslee will have to give their approval to legislation that would keep voter-approved public charter schools open for 1,300 children.
State Senate Republicans have already approved the bill that would save charter schools. Whether or not state House Democrats will be as friendly toward the education of underprivileged students is unclear. Certainly, the pull to cater to the Washington Education Association (WEA) is strong, especially given all the money the union pumps into Democrat campaigns.
As Shift has pointed out, public charter schools offer underprivileged students an advantage they otherwise would not have in a system controlled by the WEA. It’s due to the prospect of losing money and power that the WEA has done everything in its power to destroy public charter schools. And, it’s due to the prospect of losing money and power offered by the supporting the WEA that most Democrat lawmakers (a brave few have offered their support) remain either largely silent, like Jay Inslee, or directly oppose public charter schools, like Democrat state Senator Pramila Jayapal.
So, given the spectrum of attitudes Democrats demonstrate toward charter schools, where does state Speaker of House Frank Chopp fall? After all, his stance will—ultimately—decide the future of the charter school legislation.
As the Washington Policy Center points out, in 2004, the state Legislature passed the Washington Charter Schools Act with Chopp casting the deciding vote of approval. Though Democrat Governor Gary Locke signed the legislation into law, WEA launched and aggressive attack that ultimately led to its repeal via a referendum. The Washington Policy Center explains,
“That was a dozen years ago, before the public knew much charter schools. Since then charter schools have grown in popularity with parents. Charter schools are especially popular with low-income and minority parents. Their safe and disciplined learning environments, and their customized specialty programs for children are attractive to parents. Today charter schools are expanding rapidly, with 6,700 public charter schools enrolling 2.9 million students throughout the country. Charter school enrollment jumped by 14 percent nationwide between 2013-14 and 2014-15.”
As the public’s approval of charter schools continues to grow, so does the WEA’s vehement attack against them. The relevant question is: Will Chopp act consistently and lend his approval to the charter school legislation, or will he cave to the pressure of the WEA and oppose it?