Looks like the Washington State Legislature is eager to fix the technical problems identified by the State Supreme Court when it overturned the voter-approved charter school law, as two different bills were filed this week in anticipation of the 2016 legislative session (which kicks off on Monday, January 11). Both bills have bipartisan support.
Fixing the funding source – One bill, filed by Sen. Steve Litzow (R-Mercer Island) along with Sen. Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens), Sen. Joe Fain (R-Auburn) and Sen. Mark Mullet (D-Issaquah) would address the Supreme Court’s concerns over dedicated funding streams for charter schools. Under the new law, charter schools would receive their funding from the Opportunity Pathways Account. That account includes state lottery revenue, and its use isn’t restricted solely to “common schools” (this addresses the Court’s concern that charter schools aren’t “common schools” and so shouldn’t receive funds from the “common schools” fund).
From Sen. Litzow: “Public charter schools are a meaningful opportunity for students – especially minority children from low-income families – who are disproportionately failed by Washington’s inequitable public school system. . . No single reform will alone ensure we can meet Washington’s duty to provide a high-quality education to all children. Historic investments for public education in 2015, the expansion of charter schools and other research-based reforms supporting our most at-risk students will help close the state’s opportunity gap and strengthen the entire public education system.”
Note: Rep. Chad Magendanz (R-Issaquah) along with Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland) and Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn) are sponsors of the House companion bill.
Districts as authorizers – another bill, filed by Sen. Andy Billig (D-Spokane) and Sen. Michael Baumgartner (R-Spokane) would tighten the oversight and authorization process for charter schools, and allow only school district to serve as authorizers. This fix aims to resolve the Court’s concern that all charter schools should be answerable to and controlled only by elected school boards.
Our view – Right now in Washington, approximately 1100 students attend charter schools. Seventy percent of these students come from families of color, and two-thirds qualify for free or reduced school lunch.
Charter schools provide these students and their families with much-needed options. Given the bipartisan support for these bills, we’re optimistic the Legislature can find a quick and sensible solution to fix the problems identified by the Court, so that these children can continue to learn, grown and thrive at the school that best works for them.