If all goes as scheduled, the 2016 legislative session will wrap up this Thursday, March 10, by midnight. One of the most pressing problems lawmakers have known since last year that they needed to solve during this session was how to save voter-approved public charter schools.
Of course, the need to save charter schools came about after the state Supreme Court handed down its highly partisan (and controversial) decision declaring them unconstitutional prior to last Labor Day weekend.
The court’s ruling was the first in the nation – 40 other states have charter schools – to strike down such schools in their entirety. As a result, over 1,300 public charter school students and their families were left without any security over the future of their schools.
So, in order to address the issues that led the court to strike down public charter schools as unconstitutional, Republicans (along with a handful of Democrats) presented a bill that would preserve the 2012 initiative that voters approved, while addressing the court’s concerns by changing the way such schools are financed.
Specifically, the bill proposes using the state’s Opportunity Pathways Account (which has revenue from the state lottery) as a means to fund public charter schools. That would ensure the court that no general fund money was being used on the charter schools which a majority of its justices dislike.
Most importantly, over 1,300 current charter school students would be able to continue attending their schools in the years to come.
The closure of public charter schools would be a blow to students currently left behind in traditional public schools,, as they offer underprivileged students an advantage they otherwise would not have in a system controlled by the Washington Education Association (WEA). Two public charter schools in Tacoma are reporting positive gains for students reflected in test scores, standing as proof positive of the success of public charter schools.
Unfortunately, most Democrats appear unwilling to risk the WEA’s campaign dollars in favor of what is right for unprivileged children. As Shift has pointed out in the past, it is 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 Democrat lawmakers remain either silent or directly oppose public charter schools.
It did not take long for the Republican-controlled state Senate to pass the bill to save charter schools. The Senate passed the charter school “fix” bill by a 27-20 vote in January, despite some Democrats’ fierce opposition. Following the vote, state Senator Bob Hasegawa (D-Seattle) decided to demonstrate just how much his party hates the idea of schools devoted to benefitting the future prospects of underprivileged students. He made several wild claims against charter schools… and the students who attend them.
Though the state Senate passed the charter school fix just a few weeks following the start of the legislative session, state House Democrats have failed to act. And, when faced with the opportunity to advance the charter school bill, Democrats on the House Education Committee chose to block it.
Unfortunately, with Democrats (and their special interests supporters) in control, the future of charter schools in our state is not promising. Jay Inslee continues to do nothing — he gave a clear indication of his intention to sit back and let the WEA destroy public charter schools when he refused to call a special session following the state Supreme Court’s ruling last year.
It’s hard to forget David Postman’s (now Inslee’s chief-of-staff) out-of-touch response to what our green governor planned on doing following the court’s ruling. Postman said, “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.”
That same unconcerned attitude is what will be the end of charter schools in our state. Interestingly enough, Inslee said that he would not sign another bill until lawmakers finish the supplemental budget (not that he has been much of a help in that department).
If only our green governor showed the same type of fortitude and urgency when it comes to voter-approved charter schools. Perhaps then more than 1,300 children will be able to continue attending their schools of choice.