Published January 22, 2013
Teachers union shouldn’t go against voters
Washington voters approved a citizen’s initiative to experiment with charter schools by the narrowest of margins – 50.6 percent statewide, 50.19 percent in Thurston County – but that’s no justification for the teachers union to launch a lawsuit. The Washington Education Association is angry that voters approved the creation of 40 charter schools over the next five years, and they are blaming well-heeled education reform advocates – such as Microsoft’s Bill Gates – for pouring about $11 million into the campaign and supposedly pulling a fast-one on the public. The pro-Initiative-1240 campaign was honest and direct. For a campaign that deceived voters, look no further than the $14-plus million that the soda pop industry spent to defeat the 2011 proposed tax that would have funded K-12 education and improved Washington’s public schools. Voters knew exactly what they were approving with I-1240: more innovation in our K-12 school system. Traditional public schools have been slow to embrace ground-breaking approaches to education because, unlike charter schools, they are bound by numerous bureaucratic regulations. It is the WEA’s natural inclination to oppose charter schools, because they operate outside the bounds of traditional public system, and – more importantly – outside the control of the union. I-1240 will permit charter schools to strategically alter class sizes and hire and fire teachers based on performance or school priorities. But the union would be smart to slow down their rush to court. It’s unlikely any charter schools will start up this year. It will take most of 2013 to set up the state commission and other infrastructure required to oversee charter schools before the application and review process can even begin. If the WEA tries to quash charter schools before one even opens its doors, it won’t win them any brownie points with a voting public that has tried for 18 years to build a charter school in this state. Besides, if the first charter schools are no good, as the union predicts, parents will be the first to demand they be shut down. But, if they succeed, as they have for the most part in other states, the result will be more choices and more opportunities for our students to get a quality education. School districts that already have high-performing schools using an array of educational options won’t need charter schools. Nor should charter schools be seen as the silver bullet that eliminates all the challenges facing today’s educators. The public may seem evenly divided, but the hunger for bold and creative ideas to education is real. Letting the charter school experiment play out for a few years will satisfy that demand, one way or another.