We know charter schools are controversial to some. Especially to certain special interests such as the state teachers union, charter schools are seen as a threat. I have a hard time seeing why, but any part of our public education system that is beyond their control is obviously unacceptable to them.
The charters law, before it was knocked down by the state Supreme Court, was to allow only up to 40 charter schools over 10 years – a miniscule figure compared to the total number of regular public schools in the state. But the teachers union didn’t want even that small toe in the door. They want the door to charter schools firmly shut.
Just who is getting the door shut in their face has been a matter of some contention. Last week we looked at the arguments offered by the head of the Washington Association of School Administrators against charter schools. Following his logic, some of what he said sounded like an unsupported conspiracy theory. He also wondered about the PR efforts of charter school supporters, asking if the opening of charter schools was “a calculated plan to make sure there were student faces at the center of this debate?”
The plot thickens
Clearly those views are held by others, too, judging by comments on the floor of the state Senate today by Sen. Bob Hasegawa (D-Seattle). The Senate passed a charter schools “fix” bill on a 27-20 vote, and Hasegawa wasn’t happy about it.
I’m highlighting here four of the more egregious things Hasegawa said. While I think they’re unfortunate remarks, I don’t highlight them to mock the Senator. There’s much to learn about the concerns and motivations of our political opposites from their arguments, and I don’t doubt that Hasegawa truly believes the things he said. That being said, these four are pretty wrong-headed.
- “Almost $2 million of that coming from Arkansas. Now what’s in Arkansas? Probably one of the most – the headquarters of one of the most infamously anti-union corporations, the largest corporation in the world, and the wealthiest family in the world. Why are they so interested in soaking $2 million into creating charter schools in Washington state?”
Hasegawa is referring to the $1.7 million (of $11 million total) donated by Alice Walton, of Wal-Mart’s founding family, to the Yes on 1240 campaign. But like the WASA head, he doesn’t really connect it to any non-altruistic goal here, other than a vague anti-union conspiracy he doesn’t spell out. Why does Hasegawa chose that example instead of the $1,050,000 donated to the yes campaign from pro-union lefty Nick Hanauer? Because it doesn’t fit the conspiracy narrative.
- “So it’s not any mistake that the charter school initiative did not accommodate for unions and the ability for the teachers to have a voice in their own instructional processes and working conditions.”
Let’s be clear, every teacher who joined a charter school in Washington did so because they wanted to and because they believed in their school’s mission. Clearly they believe they have a voice in their workplace. That’s one of the factors that attracts teachers to charter schools.
- “As a little side note, this may not be the most politically correct thing to say, but I get offended when people start parading poor little brown and black faces out there and saying, ‘Oh those poor kids, look it, they have this oppor’ – what about the 1.1 other million kids out there who deserve equity of access to an equally good quality education? We’re going to throw all them under the bus?”
Apparently Hasegawa is worried, like the WASA chief, that it looks bad to deny charter schools funding to the largely minority populations Washington’s charter schools serve. It’s bad PR. They like to see it in terms of manipulation – “calculated plan,” “parading” minority faces. What I see is a group of eager students whose parents chose to enroll them in charter schools on one side, and special interests like the teachers union going all out to keep those schools shut down. Different perspectives, huh? (It’s also interesting to read between the lines of Hasegawa’s thoughts on where students can hope to receive an “equally good quality education.” Some of his allies may prefer he not expand on those thoughts in the future.)
- “So this is a misguided proposal, in my opinion…to drain the resources from our public school system so that they cannot support all the other students…”
This one statement shows why it’s so difficult for people with diametrically opposing views to discuss a topic like this. The total amount spent on charter schools is a tiny drop in the bucket compared to all the state and local money we spend on regular public schools. To believe that the goal of charter schools is to “drain the resources” so regular schools “cannot support all the other students” is such an overblown, wrong-headed belief. And yet it’s shared by others in Olympia, including some other legislators. Truly fascinating.
You can watch Sen. Hasegawa’s comments in full here, starting at 1:18:30