In November 2015, the state Supreme Court announced that it would not reconsider its ruling declaring public charter schools unconstitutional — after voters had passed a charter schools initiative in 2012. The court’s refusal to reconsider its harmful decision came despite the bi-partisan legal reasoning of the state’s current and last four Attorneys General, the Washington State Charter Schools Association, and a group of 10 legislators from both parties.
That refusal by the court means that, if over 1,300 public charter school students will be able to return to their chosen schools next year, the state Legislature and Jay Inslee will have to change state law during the upcoming legislative session. It’s well assured that Republicans – and a few very vocal Democrats like State Representative Eric Pettigrew – would support a change in the law respecting voters’ will and reinstating charter schools. Whether or not other Democrats will be supportive is less assured.
Following the court’s ruling, both Republican and a few Democrat lawmakers called on Inslee to convene a special session in order to seek a legislative fix. Unfortunately, our green governor—lacking any sense of urgency on the issue—chose not to act. Given the $1 million dollars that the Washington Education Association (WEA) put in to electing Inslee in 2012, it came as no surprise that Inslee refrained from stepping on the toes of his wealthy benefactors.
David Postman, paid spokesmen for Inslee, showed the laziness of the governor’s people on the issue by actually stating following the court’s ruling, “The governor is, I think, on an airplane now coming back from Japan but his staff has been talking to the Attorney General’s office since yesterday… It would be great if everybody wanted to give up their Labor Day weekend … but it’s not practical.”
To be fair, some Democrats have challenged the WEA, joining Republicans in calling on the court to reverse its decision and declaring their support for charters school publically. Democrat Rep. Pettigrew wrote an op-ed in the Olympian lambasting the court’s decision. He wrote,
“Across our state and all over the country, students of color are not making it in conventional public schools. Black and Latino students make up the largest number of dropouts, face harsher discipline, suffer from language barriers, and deal with the ever-present achievement gap. In my district, we have children of color struggling with these same issues, and more…It incenses me that for the sake of some traditional principle, the court, the union and other traditional education organizations chose to take away what might have been these kids’ only shot. As the only African American legislator in the state, it’s disheartening to be leading this battle cry that everyone in the community wanted to be part of, and then when the rubber hits the road, ‘tradition’ steps in. Well guess what? Traditional methods aren’t working for our children.”
Unfortunately, other Democrats have cheered the Supermes misguided ruling—proving their true priority is special interest money rather than educating our children. The WEA and other unions celebrated the court’s decision as a victory —and many Democrats followed their lead. The 36th District Democrats passed a “resolution” stating their support for the ruling. Revealing Democrat’s hostility, state Rep. Gerry Pollet went as far as to say he used the opportunity of charter school students asking lawmakers to save their schools to teach them about their “privilege”.
So, how would the state Legislature fix the mess that the court created?
Republican state Rep. Drew Stokesbary has suggested the Legislature “could make tweaks to the law as needed, such as by segregating the money that could be used for charter schools in a separate account.” Notably, Stokesbary was one of the first to point out the unforeseen—yet problematic—implications of the court’s ruling on other types of educational programs – including tribal schools that receive state money and the widely-used Running Start program.
According to Republican state Senator Joe Fain, “the votes are there” in the state Legislature to save charter schools. Fain has stated, “It is now up to the legislature and the governor to act to ensure these kids can stay in their classrooms and that public charter schools remain an option for students and families in our state.”
Fain broke down the implications of the court’s decision via an online video. They include more than just threatening other schools and programs. Among other consequences, Fain explained the absurdity of the court’s ruling by pointing out it essentially implies that any spending on non-common schools taints the state budget. He explained how the charter school law’s severability clause should have saved charter schools, if the court’s decision applied it accurately.
Incidentally, the Washington Policy Center has launched a petition asking lawmakers to respect the will of the voters and fix the charter school law during the 2016 legislative session. You can check it out here.