Gov. Jay Inslee took a practical path by letting a bill reauthorizing charter schools become law without his signature.
The state’s eight pilot charter schools, which are independently run but have governing charters approved by a state commission or local school board, can receive public funds under the legislation. They’ve been kept alive since last fall either by receiving alternative learning grants, donations, or both.
Senate Bill 6194 partly answers the September state Supreme Court ruling that found, in effect, that charter schools must not be funded from the same source as public schools. Letting SB 6194 take effect was the right move to keep these schools going; they are getting results for many disadvantaged students who struggled in regular public schools.
Inslee avoided killing a worthwhile program by not vetoing the bill; he avoided alienating teachers by not signing a bill their union hates.
The Democrat is now getting flak from some charter advocates for not fully embracing the school experiment authorized by a 2012 initiative that was backed by a majority of state voters.
Charter critics such as the Washington Education Association see charters as a diversion of money badly needed by K-12 schools.
Critics have a point, but how charter schools are funded would be much less of an issue if Washington’s Legislature fully funded K-12 schools.
As we know, that full funding hasn’t happened — despite repeated rulings and orders issued by the Supreme Court, including the McCleary decision in 2012. Lawmakers were held in contempt last year by the high court for having failed to deliver a plan for fully financing basic public education.
A sticking point has been the ongoing reliance on local property-tax levies for some teacher pay and other basic education costs. The current system favors tax-rich districts that can afford to raise more money and outbid poorer neighbors for the best teachers.
The court is frustrated, and it was this same court that ruled against charter schools last fall on the eve of a new school year. The ruling invalidated the initiative that allowed the pilot charter schools. A combination of dollars from the state’s alternative education accounts and funds from private donors kept the schools’ doors open for the current school year.
In some fancy footwork to sidestep the court’s objection to paying for charters out of public school accounts, SB 6194 took money from Lottery accounts to fund the charters.
The next court case that may be brought against the charters is that they are authorized by an unelected state board, which was a concern for the Supreme Court and Inslee.
In a letter outlining his reasons for letting SB 6194 become law without his signature, Inslee said he wanted to avoid disrupting the education of charter students. He added: “One of the common characteristics of successful charter schools is a focus on teachers, who are both well compensated and continually mentored and trained to succeed. I believe that we need all of our teachers, not just those in these select schools, to be better trained, mentored and compensated.”
He’s right there. If legislators could only find the will to reform our terrible tax code and replace local levies with new state revenues, the charter schools debate might become a non-issue.