Restoring public charter schools: A legislative must-do that still faces challenges in short session. Why it matters.

The Seattle Times reports today on the legislative efforts to preserve public charter schools after the state Supreme Court’s unfortunate ruling. Today’s story leads with a story of a 12-year old with “mild learning disabilities” who was excited to attend a public charter school, a “big change” from his previous school experiences. Then came the state Supreme Court decision declaring Washington’s public chart school law unconstitutional.

That threw [the boy’s mother] and her family into another crisis — this time to keep her son’s school open.

The state Senate has voted to approve a solution that would preserve the schools. The Times writes that the vote kindled hope among supporters, but challenges remain in the House.

But the future of Washington’s charters is far from certain, with strong opposition from many Democrats in the House, and groups including the state administrators association and the state teachers union.

Opponents continue to frame the issue as a choice between public charter schools and meeting the legislative obligation to fund basic education. We’ll repeat what we said previously.

It’s a false choice… Public charter schools are public. Their restoration and funding in no way compete with funding of the traditional public schools.

The Times story does a nice job with the story of one student and one family. The Washington State Charter School Association puts that story into a larger perspective, reporting that:

  •  More than two-thirds of students in Washington’s public charter schools are from low-income families.
  •  More than 70 percent of Washington’s public charter school students are students of color.
  •  39 percent of Washington’s public charter school teachers are people of color, as compared to a statewide average of just 13 percent.

Allowing public charter schools to close down will disproportionately affect families who turned to charters because their child’s needs were not being met.

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports on how the issue may play into gubernatorial politics. We’ll leave that question to others, but want to highlight a couple of points from the story.

  • Charter schools are making a favorable impression. As public school teacher strikes loomed post-Labor Day, reporters found the school year already underway for three weeks at the Summit Sierra charter school in Seattle’s International District.  Hundreds of charter school students would descend on Olympia to lobby, just as the Supreme Court was refusing to reconsider its ruling..
  • Democrats’ support for charter schools is building.  State Sens. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah and Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, both from swing districts, worked with Republican colleagues on the Senate rescue plan. Several House Democrats, notably Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, are backers.  So is a group called Democrats for Education Reform, and such bipartisan groups as the League of Education Voters.

Our survey finds strong support for public charter schools. 

Given the Washington Supreme Court ruling declaring the state’s charter schools unconstitutional, we wanted to learn how Washingtonians view this educational alternative. Nearly three-quarters of those surveyed agree it is important that students have the option of attending public charter schools.

The thing to remember about ‘must-do’ legislation is that it still needs to be done. There’s much at stake this year for Washington students. Restoring and preserving public charter schools is at the top of the list.