Charters fix is easy; political will needed to do what’s right

A bipartisan group of legislators announced Thursday new bills that would allow public charter schools to continue receiving state funding. Although our state’s charter schools law was passed by the voters in 2012, the state Supreme Court declared their funding structure unconstitutional because they received money from the state’s common schools fund.

That was a flawed ruling, but the new proposal is a straight-forward fix that will pass constitutional muster. Charter schools would be funded instead from the Opportunity Pathways Account, which comes from state lottery revenues and is not part of the common schools fund.

The Senate bill, SB 6194, is sponsored by Sen. Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island), Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens), Sen. Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah), and Sen. Joe Fain (R-Auburn). The House companion bill, HB 2367, is sponsored by Rep. Chad Magendanz (R-Issaquah), Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-Renton), Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland), Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn), Rep. Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), and many others.

Rejecting fix would reject important option for kids
Public charter schools aren’t a large-scale solution for improving student achievement. They’re a small-scale but important option for some students who just aren’t well-served by traditional public schools. The operational flexibility of charter schools is just what some communities need to better serve kids.

For certain populations, the charters option is especially important. Stanford’s 2009 CREDO study noted:

“For students that are low income, charter schools had a larger and more positive effect than for similar students in traditional public schools. English Language Learner students also reported significantly better gains in charter schools, while special education students showed similar results to their traditional public school peers.”

Charter schools can help counteract a specific and unfortunate problem here in Washington. The Seattle Times wrote on Thursday, “During the past 12 years, the gap in achievement between poor students and others in Washington has widened more than in any other state, according to an analysis released Thursday.”

That’s a sad fact for our state. Rep. Eric Pettigrew, who is black, has been supporting charter schools for longer than anyone else in his caucus. “The opportunity to get a great education should be available to everyone, regardless of their zip code or the color of their skin. But many students, especially students of color, are not getting the education they deserve in our current system,” Pettigrew said.

Fix is easy, bucking interest groups is hard
The fix bill backed by Pettigrew and others is pretty simple. Funding voter-approved charter schools out of lottery revenues rather than the state general fund is a relatively easy, uncontroversial thing to do.

What is controversial, at least to the state teachers union, is the existence of charter schools at all. The union doesn’t like them, cheered the state Supreme Court ruling against them (just as the charter schools were opening to students), and wants them gone – permanently. While there are majorities in both chambers to pass a fix, Gov. Jay Inslee has continued to throw cold water on the idea of signing a bill that would give charter schools a new lease on life, though he has not categorically ruled it out.

It’s might be awkward to go against the wishes of the state teachers union, but sometimes doing the right thing means saying “no” to your top campaign funder.
-Rob McKenna

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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.