Dem support for charter schools is growing

Hundreds of eager young students in bright T-shirts descended on Olympia two weeks ago to stick up for their charter schools. They met with legislators and testified in committee with smiles on their faces, but they carried a serious message: help save our charter schools from oblivion.

Later that day, the state Supreme Court did its best to wipe those smiles away. A bare majority of justices announced that, no, the court would not reconsider its flawed ruling against charter schools. Now, the kids’ face-to-face meetings with legislators earlier in the day were more important than ever. The only hope for charter schools in our state rests with the House and Senate.

The students themselves are the movement’s most persuasive advocates. It’s impossible not to be moved by these students’ stories about the hope their charter schools have brought into their lives, and what a crushing shame it would be to see them closed down.

A “teaching moment”
Not everyone caught the spirit, though. Rep. Gerry Pollet (D-Tone Deaf) saw the kids’ personal lobbying as a chance for a “teaching moment.” In Pollet’s telling, his lecture to the students on fairness and equality made the kids see how their ideals “had bumped into their own privilege.”

Well then

No doubt Pollet taught them a lesson, but perhaps not the one he intended. They did get an up-close-and-personal demonstration on misreading the moment and missing the point (civics teachers, he’s available for in-class visits!), which is invaluable in its own way.

But there’s hope
Most legislators may have more sense than to lecture children, but there are plenty in Olympia who share Pollet’s viewpoint. They’re not persuadable, let alone by kids. They’re politically subservient to the adults in the system, not the students – and certainly not students from schools that stand somewhat apart from that system. Heresy!

Thankfully, some of Pollet’s fellow legislative Democrats are peeling away from the prevailing thinking in their caucuses and recognizing that charters are an option some families need. Senators Steve Hobbs and Mark Mullet support charter schools. In the House, longtime charters advocate Rep. Eric Pettigrew has been joined by representatives Judy Clibborn, Larry Springer, and now David Sawyer. More may join them.

Rep. Sawyer explained his reasoning:

“Public charter schools like Destiny Middle School are not the only solution, but they are part of a range of solutions that increase access to high-quality public education — particularly for children of color, who stand to benefit the most from the public charter school law voters passed in 2012…

A child’s zip code or the color of her skin should not dictate whether or not she will graduate from high school, attend college, or achieve future career success. As legislators, we need to ensure that every child has the opportunity to get a great education. Public charter schools represent a path forward for some students who are underserved by our current educational system.”

Democrats hold a small 50-48 advantage in the House next year, the tightest margin in years. Majorities for charter schools are likely in both chambers. Charters won’t be saved on a single vote, though. They’ll be a big bargaining chip in budget negotiations – sad, maybe, but true. Rep. Chad Magendanz (R-Issaquah) is ready for the fight:

“The biggest political obstacle to wrapping up McCleary right now is a charter school fix. If the Speaker won’t allow a vote, McCleary doesn’t have a chance. Is the teachers union willing to risk $3 billion per biennium just so that 1,300 at-risk kids have fewer options?”

Good question. Gov. Inslee needs to answer it, too.
-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.