Enough House Democrats decided that it was in their best re-election campaign interest to support voter-approved public charter schools. Ten Democrats broke off from their party to pass a bill to save charter schools in Washington, over six months after the State Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional in a highly partisan (and highly criticized) decision in September.
The bill (House Bill 2367) was sponsored by Republican Rep. Chad Magendanz (Issaquah) and is the companion bill to Senate Bill 6194, passed by the state Senate back in January. The measure seeks to change the way schools are funded in order to address certain issues raised by the court.
Slight – and, in some cases, petty – amendments were made to the original bill, which means it will go back to the State Senate for final approval. Luckily, the Senate is controlled by Republicans (who passed the original bill two months ago) so there is little chance of the bill stalling like it did in the House.
Special recognition should be given to Democrat State Representative Eric Pettigrew. Rep. Pettigrew worked behind the scenes to get the bill to the House floor. He was very vocal in his belief that public charter schools would help the students in his South Seattle district. He was able to convince enough of his liberal colleagues that it was in their best re-election interest to actually challenge Speaker Frank Chopp and demand the bill come up for a vote on the floor.
The Democrats who finally voted for public charter schools are:
- Judy Clibborn
- Chris Hurst
- Ruth Kagi
- Kristine Lytton
- Jeff Morris
- Eric Pettigrew
- David Sawyer
- Tana Senn
- Larry Springer
- Pat Sullivan
Just to be clear, the fact that only 10 Democrats voted for the bill means that a whopping 39 Democrats voted against saving schools that help underprivileged students (one Democrat was excused from voting). A total of 39 Democrats wanted to prevent over 1,300 current public charter school students from continuing to attend their schools.
And, 39 Democrats chose to place a major campaign donor (the Washington Education Association) ahead of what is proven to be an important part of our public school system: charter schools.
Nevertheless, by loosening the grasp of the WEA, this is a victory for education in our state. As Rep. Magendanz stated, “These innovative schools allow many otherwise disadvantaged students to get a quality education. Students who may have struggled in a rigid public school system are given the opportunity to be successful with new styles of teaching and encouragement.”
Once the Senate passes the bill, it will be up to Jay Inslee to sign it, and save public charter schools in Washington. One can only hope that– since today is the 12th anniversary of the last time the legislature passed a charter school bill– Inslee will follow the words of then-Governor Gary Locke (hat-tip to the Washington Policy Center’s Jason Mercier):
“I have always been interested in innovation directed toward improving student performance. This legislation promotes the ‘outside-the-box’ thinking that is sometimes needed to help struggling students meet our high academic standards.”
Should Inslee choose to act in the best interests of our students, we will watch to see what the WEA will do to try and protect their control over public schools. Union bosses ran an initiative to overturn the law the last time around. So, we expect the union will continue to fight public charter schools in our state.