Searching for a charter school conspiracy

Like you, I am often frustrated with how Olympia is run. While there’s plenty to improve upon there, however, one need only look at the way D.C. dys-functions and suddenly Olympia looks pretty good by comparison. Compared to Congress, there’s a lot of bipartisan cooperation in the Legislature. The egos are a little more in check. Politics doesn’t seem like a search-and-destroy mission.

And for the most part, the discourse in Olympia seems a little more genuine than federal politics. More often, political leaders say what they mean, mean what they say, and do it with respect.

That’s not to say that Olympia is free of head-scratching arguments. Someone forwarded one such argument to me regarding charter schools, made last month by the head of the Washington Association of School Administrators (WASA).

The author of this post states up front that his group opposed the state charter schools initiative that passed in 2012 and was one of the plaintiffs in the court challenge to the initiative, in which the Supreme Court ruled against charter schools. He runs through WASA’s concerns about charter schools, but then he makes an argument about negative reaction to the Supreme Court’s timing that is hard to brush off:

There has been little, if any, criticism focused on the eight new schools that went blithely forward, knowing full well that the Court had not yet decided their future. I doubt that any other business would risk a start-up venture in the face of such uncertainty, and yet, these eight new schools were moving full speed ahead. Where was the public outrage regarding their actions in light of what occurred? And were they just caught up in the excitement of a new venture, or was this a calculated plan to make sure there were student faces at the center of this debate?[emphasis added]

  1. I’m not sure why the author would expect “public outrage” over charter schools opening their doors, since it was that same public, as Shift WA points out, that passed the charter school law in the first place. Charter school leaders weren’t moving “blithely forward,” they were completing the process of setting up these schools that began soon after the 2012 election was certified. When a program run entirely by government is struck down by the courts, does the author also blame that government for moving “blithely forward” on it?
  2. “…was this a calculated plan to make sure there were student faces at the center of this debate?” Here the argument is really heading into conspiracy theory territory. Is the author really suggesting that just by opening their doors to students, charter schools were trying to manipulate the debate and create “victims”? Maybe he should tell that to the dedicated teachers who believe in their mission to help disadvantaged communities with a different approach to education. They must be pawns, too, in this imagined Machiavellian scheme.
  3. Then the author does cite an actual conspiracy theory. He wrote, “According to the Public Disclosure Commission, Initiative 1240 was supported by over $11.4 million from a few wealthy individuals, while the opposition raised only $714,351. Maybe that investment, and the more recent public relations campaign, is purely motivated by philanthropy. Or as Deep Throat suggested in All the President’s Men, perhaps we should follow the money.” Then he goes on to say Wall Street loves charter schools because of a tax break. But does he link that to the preceding paragraph about who donated to the initiative campaign? No. Some of the top donors include Bill Gates, Paul Allen (through Vulcan), Connie Ballmer, Nick Hanauer, and Jeff Bezos’s parents. Did they donate because they hoped to make money from charter schools? Please.

Groups like WASA and the state teachers union oppose charter schools. I get that, and I don’t expect them to do the charter school movement any favors. But the opposition should see that charter school advocates genuinely believe that charters are an option we need to help kids who really need a choice. As legislators debate this year over whether to make a “fix” to the charter school law, it would be better not to turn the debate into one of dark conspiracies around every corner.
-Rob McKenna

The following two tabs change content below.
Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.
  • Indy-pendant

    Thank you, Rob, for bringing some common sense to answer Bill Keim’s conspiracy theory. Perhaps he would have a better perspective if he didn’t confine himself to listening to one segment of the population. There were a lot of votes cast for charter schools, though obviously not by WEA members. Yet it appears the WEA votes are the only ones Bill considers important.

  • Ken Mortland

    Conspiracy or Merely Naively Wishful Thinking?

    “… since it was that same public … that passed the charter school law in the first place.”

    It never ceases to amaze me the ease with which factions dispose of the membership of their opposition. In this case, in sixteen words the author disposes of just slightly less than half of the folks who cast their votes on the Charter Schools Initiative (I-1240). It seems they are not part of “the public” and no one need be concerned or even interested in their perspectives. And it is among them one is most likely to find any “public outrage”. But then, who cares, they lost; forget about them. They no longer matter.

    “…was this a calculated plan to make sure there were student faces at the center of this debate?”

    Given human nature, I think not. Having the door opened by the election and having gotten
    underway before the lawsuit was filed, it’s much more likely that enthusiasm
    and momentum carried them forward into the box canyon they then found
    themselves in. Seems entirely
    natural, though unfortunate, to me.

    “Did they donate because they hoped to make money from charter schools?”

    Some do, some don’t; some seek to build investment opportunities that will bring in profits and tax credits, while some only seek to diminish or destroy what they see as a political opponent; e.g. unions and liberal politicians they support. I don’t doubt some are, indeed, driven by altruistic motives; but they are very few. Is this then a conspiracy or simple people of like minds joining together for a common purpose? After all, isn’t that also what unions are?

    “But the opposition should see that charter school advocates genuinely believe that charters are an option we need to help kids who really need a choice.”

    The history of the charter school movement, its failures to achieve the lofty goals it proclaims in its brochures, the degree of fraud and nepotism, and the open solicitation of investors and venture capitalists with promises of a ‘stable markets’ & ‘federal government tax credits’ suggest something altogether different than this rather naïve proposition. I’m reminded of the image of Lepedus, having lost his share of the Second Triumvirate to Octavian’s and Antony’s greed, standing upon a Roman Forum speaker’s block, vainly trying to convince the citizens of Rome that he’d been cheated. Will we look back upon these events sometime in the future with the same longing complaint?

  • westello

    Whose being disingenuous here?

    These former charter schools (and that’s how OSPI now identifies them) did NOT fully inform prospective parents or enrolled parents of this lawsuit and ALL the possible outcomes. The Charter Commission did NOT pass a rule that parents had to be informed.

    It was not wrong for the schools to open; it was wrong to tell parents everything (and you can see from news reports and charter websites that parents were not told.) Charter operators gambled on students’ academic lives. This is the folly they enacted.

    No one is saying that the wealthy (and some out-of-state) people who invested in charter schools in Washington State will make money. But they DO want to control the direction of public education in this country. Were they hired? No. Appointed? No. Elected? No.

    They are just wealthy and believe they know best. That is not enough of a reason to try to control the educational destinies of these students.

    That Mr. McKenna leaves out that there was a campaign against the charter initiative made up entirely of parents and community is to NOT tell the full picture.

    But that is the flaw in most ed reformers – the narrow lens thru which they view public education and the echo chamber they enjoy.

  • FC White

    Hey Rob McKenna, you and your fellow charter shills are so full of it. The Privatizers outspent their opponents by 17 to 1: That’s right, Seventeen To One, in 2012, with record spending in an attempt to brainwash and manipulate voters into supporting the truly heinous and revolting I-1240.

    Would it be fair if the Seahawks faced 17 men on the field, for every one of their own? Would it be fair if their opponents were given a six touchdown lead before the opening kickoff?

    BUT, most telling—even WITH this vile, sickening, unfair 17 to 1 advantage—The Privatizers, largely supported by just FIVE billionaires who pushed this disgusting, unconstitutional ballot measure, could ONLY manage a statewide statistical tie! It took almost a full month before they could barely squeeze out a “victory” through this horrific PURCHASING of this awful law.

    God Bless The Supreme Court of Washington, Governor Inslee and ALL of the brave legislators who REFUSE to kowtow to those who detest our public schools, our children and their teachers.

    We’ve won already. Charters are dead. You, Rob McKenna, just refuse to admit it. Get used to it. And move to Louisiana if you love charters so much…it’ll be Heaven On Earth for you there…unless, you have school age children, that is…