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Bill to save Washington state charter schools awaits governor’s signature

By   /   March 14, 2016  /   News  /   No Comments

Shirline Wilson and her son Miles, 11, are fighting to keep charter schools open in Washington state.

Shirline Wilson and her son Miles, 11, were among the charter school families who lobbied the state legislature to keep Washington’s charters open.

A bill aimed at saving charter schools in the state of Washington cleared both legislative chambers late last week and now awaits the signature of Democratic Gov. Jay Inslee.

He has 20 days from the date of final passage — March 10 — to sign the measure into law, let it become law without his signature, or veto it. Inslee vetoed 27 bills and called a special session last week in response to the legislature’s failure to pass a budget. He has said he will hold other bills — including the charter school measure — to a similar standard until a budget is enacted.

Designed to respond to a Washington Supreme Court ruling that found the state’s voter-approved charter school law unconstitutional, SB 6194 would change the funding source  for charters. The schools would no longer have access to local-levy funding; instead, they would receive money from a program funded by state lottery revenue.

This year $18 million would be allocated for charters in an Opportunity Pathway Account, according to Maggie Meyers, director of communications for the Washington State Charter Schools Association. Meyers said funding will vary from year to year based on student enrollment and other factors.

There are currently eight charter schools operating in the state, serving about 1,100 students.

“The major change is that charter schools will no longer be funded through funds that are constitutionally restricted to common schools,” said Meyers. “Charter schools are public schools, but not ‘common schools’ as defined by Washington State constitution. Note this is an antiquated term that if applied to the rest of the system would implicate other public but not ‘common’ schools. This includes high schools, early college high schools, technical centers, etc.”

Tom Franta, CEO of the Washington State Charter Schools Association, told Watchdog that reaching a long-term solution on to how to define and fund charter schools was necessary for families.

“We’re incredibly thankful to legislators in both houses and on both sides of the aisle who, by passing a long-term and bipartisan solution for public charter schools, stand on the right side of history,” said Franta. “This vote is a testament to the hard work of parents and students who led this fight.”

Franta was confident Inslee will sign the bill into law.

“We expect Gov. Inslee will respect the Legislature’s vote and the will of the voters who passed the initiative and approved a law for public charter schools statewide,” said Franta.

Parents and students were also thankful. Roland Bradley said his 12-year-old grandson Ben is thriving in the charter school he attends.

“We have never seen Ben more excited to go to school,” said Bradley, who is retired from a career in information technology. “He likes all of his teachers, is excited about computer science and is learning how to code. He enjoys science and is looking forward to learning more about the science topics he is already interested in.”

Shirline Wilson, whose 11-year-old son attends a charter school, said she was “thrilled that SB 6194 passed both House and Senate. I expect the governor to honor the will of the voters and the work of legislature and sign the bill.”

If SB 6194 becomes law, three charters that have been authorized but have yet to open could begin serving students as early as 2017.

If Inslee vetoes the bill, Washington would become the first state to shutter its charter schools. Voters narrowly approved a charter school law by ballot initiative in 2012.

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Heather Kays, Watchdog’s senior education reporter, has more than 12 years experience as a reporter and editor covering mostly education and politics. She has written for the Herald News, The Record and the Staunton, Virginia Gannett newspaper the News Leader. Her work has been published by USA Today, the Associated Press and various other newspapers and websites. Kays has won numerous awards including: second place for First Amendment writing (while working with four other reporters) from the New Jersey Press Association; third place for the Robert P. Kelly Award for first-year reporting from the New Jersey Press Association; second place by the New Jersey Society of Professional Journalists for first-year reporting and Virginia School Board Association’s Media Honor Roll for the year. In 2008, she won a scholarship to attend the Neiman Narrative Conference at Harvard University. Heather can be reached at [email protected]