Charter Schools in Washington Move Step Closer to Being Funded

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A measure was recently passed by the Washington House in an effort to change the funding source for charter schools in the state.

An amended version of SB 6194 was approved by the House through a 58-39 vote, after which it was approved by the Senate.  It is now on its way to the desk of Governor Jay Inslee for final approval.

Charter school advocates have been pushing for approval of the measure through lobbying and fundraising in order to allow charter schools to remain open throughout Washington.  Nine charter schools have opened under the law that was approved by voters in 2012, although one has since converted into a private school.

In all, close to 1,100 students in the Seattle, Highline, Kent, Tacoma and Spokane school districts attend charter schools.

The schools have had an uncertain future since September when the state Supreme Court ruled the charter school system to be unconstitutional.  The justices did not agree with state money being set aside for traditional public schools while not being controlled by a voter-elected school board.

The new measure would use lottery money to pay for the schools, but not offer access to local levy dollars.

While Rep. Chad Magendanz, the ranking member of the House Education Committee, called the ruling a “simple and elegant solution,” attorney Paul Lawrence, who represented those who challenged the charter schools in the lawsuit, said using lottery money is an accounting trick.

“That doesn’t strike me as any different from paying it out of the general fund,” Lawrence said. “I don’t really see that that accomplishes a fix.”

The plaintiffs, which include groups such as the League of Women Voters and El Centro de la Raza in addition to the largest teacher’s union in the state, are unsure if they will sue again if the bill becomes law.

Meanwhile, charter supporters such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation have spent millions in an effort to keep the existing charter schools in Washington up and running while also lobbying for a legislative fix.  This did not seem likely as even last month the bill did not receive a single vote in the House Education Committee, writes John Higgins for The Seattle Times.

However, an amended version was filed by Rep. Larry Springer earlier this week after spending many hours with charter school advocates to find a way that would allow the schools to remain open.

“A majority of voters believe charter schools are a viable option and they ought to exist,” Springer said last week. “Our job in the Legislature is to make them constitutionally legal.”

The measure includes a number of concessions for charter school advocates, who are willing to include them as long as charter schools in the state can remain open.  Compromises include making charter schools ineligible to receive money from local property-tax levies, which would mean less funding, in addition to not allowing regular public schools to convert into charter schools.  The bill would also increase the state commission that approves of new charter schools to include the chair of the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Despite these concessions, the teacher’s union still pushed for lawmakers to reject the bill, asking that they turn their attention instead to complying with the state Supreme Court’s 2012 McCleary order to fully fund K-12 education.

“We still oppose charter legislation at a time when the Legislature is being held in contempt of court for violating the constitutional rights of more than a million of our Washington public school students,” said Rich Wood, spokesman for the Washington Education Association.