News coverage of yesterday’s Senate vote on bill to restore public charter schools; On to the House

Yesterday’s Senate vote to restore public charter schools represents important progress on one of this session’s must-do measures. As Act Now for Washington Students points out:

Washington’s public charter schools are helping close our state’s education equity gap. They are a vital part of Washington’s public schools, providing a high-quality education lifeline for many families, particularly families from underserved communities of color and families struggling with poverty. 70 percent of the state’s public charter school students are of color and two-thirds qualify for free or reduced school lunch.

The Seattle Times reports on yesterday’s floor action.

The bill mirrors the voter-approved 2012 initiative that created charter schools, with a change in the way they are financed. The bill would fund charter schools through the state’s Opportunity Pathways Account, which has revenue from the state lottery.

The funding source is important, because the state Supreme Court’s unfortunate ruling that the voter-approved public charter school law was unconstitutional hinged on the court’s majority believing that the general fund could be used only to fund “common schools.”

Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, said the bill agrees that the charter schools aren’t common schools and wouldn’t pay for them out of the general fund. Instead, he said, they would be considered uncommon schools getting money from the lottery account, which is not restricted to common schools.

The News Tribune provides reaction from public charter school supporters.

Charter school proponents praised the bill’s passage Wednesday, saying that the schools provide many students with the individualized attention they need to succeed. Washington voters approved a system of charter schools by passing Initiative 1240 in 2012.

“These are the disenfranchised students in the regular school system,” said Thelma Jackson, who chairs the board of SOAR Academy, one of Tacoma’s three charters. She said that only six months into the school year, first graders and kindergartners at SOAR are seeing “tremendous growth.”

We’ll go to the Spokesman-Review for a preview of what we may see in the House (the Times & TNT also provide examples of opponents’ arguments).

The bill may not be the final solution to charter schools, some supporters acknowledged. But it did show, in the words of Sen. Bruce Dammeier, R-Puyallup, lawmakers are “committed to solving this problem.”

“The question is, do we send this bill over to the House, or do we not.” he said.

Most Democrats opposed the bill and tried to change it. Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, offered an amendment to put any new charter schools under the control of the local school board, making them like the two charter schools in Spokane.

 TVW’s Capitol Record:

Opponents of the bill say the state should not be prioritizing charter schools at a time it is facing an education funding crisis in its public schools.

It’s a false choice, of course. Public charter schools are public. Their restoration and funding in no way compete with funding of the traditional public schools. And the education funding challenge faced by the state as a result of the state Supreme Court’s McCleary mandate is proceeding on a separate track, unaffected by public charter schools. 

On to the House.