Seattle Times calls lawsuit challenging charter public schools an “unwanted distraction;” Columbian praises higher ed tuition cuts

Education issues will continue to be at the forefront of public policy discussions through the 2017 legislative session. Charter public schools provide a good example of a controversy that should be resolved, but has not been. On the other hand, we see a growing evidence that a bipartisan agreement to improve access to higher education by lowering tradition is working as intended.

As we noted last week a familiar group of charter public school opponents have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Legislature’s new charter school law. The Seattle Times editorial board calls the lawsuit a distraction

DISAPPOINTINGLY, the state teachers union is trying once again to deprive students not well-served by traditional schools the chance to thrive at a public charter school.

It’s hard to argue with this point.

Charter-school advocates say the lawsuit is an intimidation tactic designed to scare students and their families.

It’s a good editorial. Here’s the crux:

The lawsuit is an unnecessary distraction from the real work lawmakers should be doing in Olympia: trying to figure out how to fully fund basic education in our public schools, as demanded by the Supreme Court’s McCleary school-funding decision.

And, speaking of that school funding decision, reporter Claudia Rowe looks at the status of the fines the court imposed on the state for failing to satisfy its McCleary mandate. 

To date, those fines total $36 million. So where is this money?

The short answer: in the ether, on an Excel spreadsheet.

The money hasn’t been appropriated. Some contend the court overstepped its authority; others say it might have been cleaner to put the fine money in the budget. But, in the end, the money will end up going to fund basic education.

That’s essentially where both sides come down, saying that in 2017, the McCleary fines will be subsumed in a Godzilla-sized school spending plan projected to grow from the current $21.4 billion two-year budget to something approaching $25 billion.

“Sure, call the McCleary fines the first $36 million of that amount,” Manweller, the Ellensburg lawmaker, said. “At the end of the day, the fine was a political tool by a political court. They knew we weren’t going to collect it.”

So the wrangling continues on the road to resolution. In the good news, the Columbian editorial board praises the 2015 tuition cuts. From the editorial

The immediate impact is to make higher education more affordable for Washington families — a recognition of the investment in the future that public colleges represent…

Making college more affordable for all students who have the talent or desire to attend will benefit Washington for generations to come. An educated work force is essential for continuing and expanding the state’s status as a hub of high-tech innovation, and higher education is essential to helping families break a cycle of poverty. Equally important is the fact that Washington has taken the lead in addressing skyrocketing student debt, allowing students to attend college while being saddled with fewer loans.

Yes. As the editorial concludes, it’s good to see lawmakers working effectively together to solve important public policy problems.

It also is about providing opportunity — the kind that positions Washington for a bright future and puts success within reach of more and more students.