Politics & Government

Charter-schools fix will become law in Washington without governor’s signature

Onlookers record and savor cheers by students during a rally supporting school choice at Destiny Charter Middle School in Tacoma on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015.
Onlookers record and savor cheers by students during a rally supporting school choice at Destiny Charter Middle School in Tacoma on Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015. Staff photographer

Gov. Jay Inslee took action on more than 150 bills this week, but not a measure to that aims to preserve the state’s system of charter schools.

On Sunday, the bill will become law anyway.

The measure, Senate Bill 6194, looks to solve constitutional issues with the state’s voter-approved charter-school law, which the Washington State Supreme Court struck down in September.

Inslee faced a deadline of 11:59 p.m. Saturday (April 2) to either sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature.

On Friday, he announced he had chosen the latter and the law will take effect Sunday.

In a letter explaining his decision, Inslee said he remains concerned about whether there will be adequate public oversight of charter schools, but said he doesn’t want to see the schools shut down.

I am not interested in closing schools in a manner that disrupts the education of hundreds of students and their affected families.

Gov. Jay Inslee on decision to let charter-school fix become law without his signature

About 1,100 students attend the state’s eight charter schools, three of which are in Tacoma.

“I am not interested in closing schools in a manner that disrupts the education of hundreds of students and their affected families,” the Democratic governor wrote.

“... Despite my deep reservations about the weakness of the taxpayer accountability provisions, I will not close schools.”

The decision marked the first time since 1981 that a bill has become law in Washington state without a governor’s signature.

That year, then-Gov. John Spellman chose not to sign two bills related to mandatory school busing and ferry system labor relations, said Dave Ammons, spokesman for the Office of the Secretary of State.

Unlike in some other states, Washington’s governors can’t kill bills by refusing to sign them.

During his 2012 campaign, Inslee opposed the initiative that allowed charter schools, citing similar concerns about a lack public oversight and accountability.

In September, the state’s high court said that because charter schools aren’t run by publicly elected school boards, they can’t be funded in the same way as traditional public schools — a decision that threw existing charter schools into a state of limbo.

Overall, this is 100 percent about saving schools for kids and ensuring there are options for students across Washington state, and that’s the end result

Cynara Lilly, spokeswoman for Act Now for Washington Students, a pro-charter group

Senate Bill 6194 aims to solve that issue by funding charter schools through a separate account that contains state lottery revenues, instead of using the state’s general fund.

The bill also allows additional charter schools to open in the next five years.

Yet the bill would “ultimately allow unelected boards to make decisions about how to spend public money,” Inslee wrote Friday.

“I can think of no other situation where the Legislature or the people would condone that, especially when we are fighting to meet the needs of the almost one million children in public schools.”

In the McCleary education-funding case, the state is in contempt of court over the Legislature’s failure to submit a plan to fully fund traditional public schools by 2018.

Inslee had faced competing requests from charter school opponents to veto the bill, as well as from charter schools supporters urging him to sign it into law.

Many Democrats in the Legislature opposed the bill, saying it doesn’t solve the legal problems with how charter schools are governed and will prompt another court challenge.

A spokeswoman for one of the pro-charter groups said Friday that Inslee’s decision not to veto the bill was a cause for celebration.

Charter school parents, students and education reform groups lobbied hard this year for the Legislature to pass a bill to save the schools, which they said take an innovative approach to instruction and can help students who struggle in traditional public schools.

“Overall, this is 100 percent about saving schools for kids and ensuring there are options for students across Washington state, and that’s the end result,” said Cynara Lilly, spokeswoman for Act Now for Washington Students. “I don’t think we can be anything but happy today.”

We remain opposed to this flawed charter school bill, especially at a time the state is being held in contempt of court for not fully funding K-12 public schools

Rich Wood, spokesman for the Washington Education Association, the statewide teachers union

Voters approved charter schools in Washington by passing Initiative 1240 in 2012.

Some of the initiative’s biggest backers included Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, as well as Alice Walton, heiress to the Walmart fortune.

The statewide teachers union opposed the 2012 initiative, and also fought this year’s attempt to save the charter schools.

Rich Wood, spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said union members are disappointed the Legislature focused on helping a small number of charter school students instead of addressing larger school funding obligations.

“We remain opposed to this flawed charter school bill, especially at a time the state is being held in contempt of court for not fully funding K-12 public schools for all of the state’s 1.1 million students,” Wood said.

Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island and the sponsor of the legislation, said the governor’s decision not to sign the bill “doesn’t make any difference.”

He praised the bipartisan work of the Legislature to pass the bill.

“The objective was to make sure we kept the schools open for those kids,” Litzow said. “And we were successful.”

Melissa Santos: 360-357-0209, @melissasantos1

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