Washington Gov Inslee’s Inaction Allows Charter Schools to Stay

(Photo: Joe Mabel, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Joe Mabel, Creative Commons)

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced that a bill that was aimed at preserving charter schools will be allowed to stand without his signature — a choice that has not been employed by a Washington governor in 35 years.

The governor found himself wedged between affluent advocates wanting to save charters and opponents including the Washington Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, who do not want charter schools to be allowed in the state. This was a tough position for the governor, and Inslee, write John Higgins, Joseph O'Sullivan, and Paige Cornwell of The Seattle Times, chose to do nothing.

The governor was concerned that the charter boards, who are unelected, would be entitled to play a part in decision-making on how public money should be spent.

Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland), who got the ball rolling on the bill, said it is aimed at overturning the Washington Supreme Court decision stating that Washington's charter law of 2012 is unconstitutional.

It has been obvious that the governor is not a fan of the charter school program, noted Sen. Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island). Litzow is the chairperson of the Senate's Early Learning & K-12 Education Committee.

The Seattle School Board has gone on record as opposing charter schools, with board president Betty Patu calling them a "distraction" from filling the needs of the state's public schools.

Charters will receive funding from the state's lottery through Senate Bill 6194, which will be deposited in accounts that are separate from the general fund. No dollars from local property tax levies will be used for charter funding.

Since 2012, nine charters have opened their doors in the state. One of those schools, First Place Scholars in Seattle, reverted to its original status as a tuition-free private school. The existing schools serve approximately 1,100 students, and three additional schools are scheduled to open this fall.

Charter school families are relieved that Inslee made his announcement after many months of phone calls, rallies, and letter-writing on behalf of school choice.

The legislature has expanded the membership of the state commission that decides which charter schools are accepted. Additional members will include the chair of the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction, who will provide more oversight from elected officials.

Washington State Charter Schools Association CEO Tom Franta expects that opposing lawsuits will be filed, reports Donna Gordon Blankinship of the Associated Press.

The bill also will allow more charter school openings in the next five years.

In 2007, the Network for Excellence in Washington Schools asked the courts to "live up to its paramount constitutional duty to make ample provision for the education of all Washington children."

Known as the McCleary education funding case, the McCleary family, along with one other, filed a lawsuit that said the state had failed to provide a plan to fund traditional schools appropriately by 2018.

"I am not interested in closing schools in a manner that disrupts the education of hundreds of students and their affected families … However, I remain deeply concerned about the public accountability and oversight provisions of this bill. At its foundation, our public school system relies upon locally elected boards to oversee the expenditures of taxpayer money. This bill provides an option for similar oversight, but would ultimately allow unelected boards to make decisions about how to spend public money."

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