Wednesday, December 09, 2015

About Three Days

I've been talking a lot about charter schools lately and both Charlie and I have been speculating what will happen to them due to the Supreme Court's final ruling that the Washington State charter law is unconstitutional.  But I did have an epiphany this morning as the thunder woke me up. 

(I'll again state - I'm not a lawyer but I think the issue has been made clear by the Court.)

It's really just three days left that charter schools in the state of Washington will exist as charter schools.  How do I know this?

One, Monday the 14th is the likely cut-off date for state funding for the schools themselves AND their authorizers.  (I think I understand that the charters have enough state money to finish their December school month.) If a charter school has no state funding and no state oversight, under the current charter law, it's not a charter school. And, to boot, there is no charter law left.

Two, the Supreme Court struck down the ENTIRE law.  There's a new video out by state senator Joe Fain where he explains the Supreme Court decision.  To his credit, he gets it mostly right but then, at the end, glibly tries to explain how the legislature can "fix" it. 

In the video, he explains that the Court could have ruled on the case and separated out the funding issue while still allowing the rest of the law to stand. But they didn't. They said no to the whole thing because (I think) they believed that if the funding isn't there, nothing else could stand either. 

That is the crux of the situation. 

Now the students surely do need educational services.  What the charters - all of them apparently, according to the Charter Commission's Executive Director, Joshua Halsey - are choosing is to guide their students to an ALE program yet to be set up in Mary Walker School District.  MWSD will get the state funding to run the program and, in turn, "hire" the charter school staffs to implement the teaching and learning. 

That makes those charter "schools" into tutoring services.  They may have the same name but they are not charter schools.  And, how they will provide those teaching and learning services remains to be seen.  It's not going to matter that they get state funding for those services; it doesn't make them charter schools.

Even though this seems clear to me, I'm still a bit baffled and a little disturbed.

So OSPI goes thru this elaborate set-up for a tiny district to grow - on paper - its student population by more than double.  Former "charter schools" will organize the teaching and learning and be paid by the district for those services.  This is to go on for about 6-8 weeks into January and February.

The Legislature convenes on January 11, 2016 and I have little doubt that there will be a bill sitting there on day one to fund these "charter schools" until the end of the school year.   But that raises a whole host of questions:

- where will the money come from to fund them? I'm guessing it's at least $10-12M.  What state-funded department/service gets its funding cut?

- will that money fund the authorizers? Maybe.  Or maybe OSPI would just oversee them, given it is just until the end of this school year.  Or the Legislature could allow Spokane SD and the Charter Commission to oversee their schools but, of course, there would be no authorizing of new schools as, again, the entire law was thrown out.

- what if the bill either doesn't get to the floor for a vote or, if it does, is voted down?  I would assume that would mean the students stay on their ALE program until the end of the school year or some of them may choose to leave for other types of schools.

But if the students do have to stay on their ALE program until the end of the school year because the legislative funding doesn't come thru, then, once again, the charter schools and their supporters have gambled with these students' academic lives and lost.

The ALE program will not be what was advertised for those students.  In fact, if carried out like most ALEs, it will be almost completely different from what the students are currently doing. 

Funding these "schools" until the end of the school year - if that is the ONLY goal - is laudable.  But if OSPI has already found a solution, why would this be a necessary thing for the Legislature to do? 

Even if the money comes thru from the Legislature, they will just be lame-duck charter schools because the law no longer exists.  For them to go on, there would need to be a new charter law. 

Perhaps that may happen, there could be one being drafted as we speak.  But that would be a very heavy lift for a short legislative session. 

It's a dizzying amount of work for OSPI, MWSD and staff at these charter schools along with stress, frustration and uncertainty for the charter school families.

That's the irony.  If charter supporters had written a constitutional law in the first place, none of this would be happening.  They were told before the election and after the election that it wasn't constitutional but they had to hear it from the state Supreme Court. 

And, in the end, their schools will be closed as charter schools.  It's a sad thing all around that did not have to happen. 


NO 1240 said...

"That's the irony. If charter supporters had written a constitutional law in the first place, none of this would be happening." Exactly, we were told, repeatedly, that I 1240 was Constitutional and the best law in the country.

In 2013, Olympia understood that there were enormous issues with ALE and conducted an audit. As Charlie has pointed out, we have little reason to believe there will be adequate oversight.


Other areas of concern (besides lack of documentation to show compliance with state laws and

regulations) about ALE program practices

have furthered statutory changes, including those

in ESHB 2065. These concerns include, but are not limited to: (1) Boosting enrollments of out - of -district students by offering rewards of free electronic products or parent "stipends"

(2) Encouraging school district employees to

increase ALE enrollment by paying employee bonuses;

(3) Converting existing private schools to district-affiliated ALEs to allow the schools that were previously private to collect state funding; and

(4) Using curricula that are not approved by the school district and/or are religious in nature."

Number 3 caught my eye.

The Senate passed Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5946. I've not had time to research this bill and to see whether or not the bill passed in Olympia. Please put this on your radar and I hope you have time to research this issue.

I can't imagine a very small school district in eastern Washington has the capacity to rapidly implement and remain compliant with this plan.

IMO, charter schools should accept private funding, remain open until the end of the school year and close down- for good.

NO 1240 said...

Gerry Pollet urged the Charter Commission to create a contingency plan, but they failed to do so.

Last minute scrambling could have been avoided. Better yet, the Commission and charter school operators would have been smart not to prematurely open schools.

Joseph Rockne said...

I was reading through the OSPI policy documents and interpretations of the regulations the other night.

Before the students of a school district can participate in the alternative learning environment, they have to be students of that district.

There is a process that must be followed if the students are outside that district and there are certain requirements and limitations that apply. Those families that live in Seattle but enrolled their students in Shoreline most likely (or should have) followed the procedure.

Before these ALE's can be effective, those students that want to do this will need to go to their home district and be released to the outside district.

It's not a difficult process, but it is a process and it is not easy. Also, I'm not sure which of the four criteria a student in Seattle would meet in order to qualify to transfer to a school district near Spokane.

Anonymous said...

"- where will the money come from to fund them? I'm guessing it's at least $10-12M. What state-funded department/service gets its funding cut?"

In this brief to the court
it says that the legislature for the 2015-17 budget funds the charter schools from the general fund.


Melissa Westbrook said...

Joe, the Superintendent's memo of last Friday waives any requirement for the student's district of origin to release them.

Lisa, you didn't read my phrasing properly. I'm well aware that the money would come from the General Fund. I know you are new to this state but we have no new revenue source for the General Fund so some other department or program would have to have their funding cut to service the charters schools.

There won't be any charter schools in 2016-2017 if there is not a new charter law.

No 1240 said...

Melissa, Are you referring to:

" No action will be required by resident districts that approve OSPI's facility transfer."

Does Dorn have authority to do this?

Anonymous said...

Melissa said "I'm well aware that the money would come from the General Fund. I know you are new to this state but we have no new revenue source for the General Fund."

The brief doesn't say that it *could* come from the general fund. The brief says that the budget never tried to use education dollars for charter schools. The existing budget already has allocated general funds, any cuts to other programs have already happened. (and I understand that 2016-2017 is a moot point, but I guess the legislature does rolling 2-year budgets?)


Melissa Westbrook said...

I am referening to the bottom of the first page of the memo:

"No action will be required by resident districts that approve OSPI's facilitation of the transfers."

Eric B said...

Why wouldn't there be more charters in 2016-17? If the ALE charter loophole works, all any new charter needs to do is find a host district to set them up as a new ALE. They can set up all of the paperwork to be fairly easy. If MWSD sees this as a financial plus, there's no reason they wouldn't just keep adding schools to get around the "unreasonable bureaucracy" of the charter system. They'd be running without a net, but it would take an activist OSPI or MWSD superintendent to dislodge them, most likely. That would get harder every year as the schools become more entrenched.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Eric, my understanding is the funding sought would be to get the kids thru this school year. The mystery is how they go from being charters to being tutoring schools and then back to charters (because during the time they are tutoring schools, they don't have the oversight of their authorizers which is part of the charter law.)

The Charter Commission has said nothing to indicate it could/would come back and the "schools" (such that they would be) would not have oversight and therefore could not be charters.

In short, there is no one to authorize or oversight any charter schools, new or old.

The oversight for these "schools" is MWSD until the end of the school year.

Again, I'm no lawyer but if the Court had wanted to "fix" this issue, they would have ruled to sever that part of the law out and tell the Legislature to fix it. They didn't.

So the Legislature could fund these schools, fund the authorizers and even fund school board elections for the oversight that common schools need to have (if charters wanted to be common schools) - but the Court struck it all down.

I am checking with a constitutional lawyer I know.

Getting Worse said...

Abuses of ALE dollars are well documented. In the past, dollars have been inappropriately spent on religious materials. In 2005, former Charter Commissioner, and present Superintendent of Mary Walker School district felt it was ok to renovate a church with dollars intended for education. Jackins claimed his small town didn't have a lot of space for alternative classes. Hmmm....what is wrong with MWSD school buildings?

•Mary Walker School District: The district spent thousands of tax dollars in renovations at the Springdale Community Church as well as $3,700 in computer video editing equipment for two children.

The church renovations included a fence and stairway that were needed because the district leases space for alternative-school classes there, Superintendent Kevin Jacka said.

“In Springdale, we don’t have a lot of renting options,” he said.

The video equipment was used to study filmmaking, with a documentary filmmaker neighbor serving as volunteer instructor, Jacka said. When the two children left the program, he said, the equipment was sold at market rates.

“I would consider them all legitimate expenses,” he said of the items the auditors questioned. “This is alternative education. Some of these things stand out because you’re talking about two kids.”

Charlie Mas said...

Clearly Mr. Jacka can get things done for the people he wants to get things done for.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm... here's an interesting thing - there's a SAO audit report from 2014 re: Mary Walker School District that shows they are about to run out of money to operate, due to shrinking enrollment - guess taking on the charters as ALE's is one way to keep that from happening again? I don't know how it works, but it's kinda interesting.

Also, Mr. Jacka apparently signed an initiative AGAINST the Charter initiative, which made supporters like Liv Finne question his appointment....double hum...

Link to audit finding
Findings Sept 2013 - August 2014

In fiscal year 2014 the District suffered an unexpected decline in enrollment of
almost 10 percent from the numbers used to develop the budget and determine staffing levels. Since enrollment is a significant state apportionment funding
driver, revenues declined while expenditures remained the same, resulting in a
decline in the District’s financial condition..


Melissa Westbrook said...

Reader47, yes, this will be a financial boon to MWSD.

Also interesting is another reader sent me this link:

MWSD is looking for a business manager. Well that person can't be found fast enough for all the working that is coming.

Eric B said...

The key here is to cover up that word "charter" in all dealings with the states. These are not the schools you're looking for. For this year, the game is pretty well set, as far as we can tell. The charter students become ALE students, state money flows to MWSD, and MWSD pays the charter schools for their services.

The con happens next year and the year after and... All that Summit et al have to do is keep their contract with MWSD to provide ALE services. MWSD gets state money, MWSD pays Summit et al. Anyone want to open a new charter school? All they have to do is convince MWSD to sponsor their kids as ALE students. Contracts get signed, money flows, etc. As I understand it, that was all entirely legal under the law before charter schools. Maybe the bit about having ALE students halfway across the state is a little different, but I think the online school broke that ground.

Is it against the (old) rules to have ALE students at "your" schools when they live in another district? If not, charter schools never needed the initiative at all. They just needed a creative lawyer.

Melissa Westbrook said...

But Eric, MWSD is NOT a charter authorizer. For those schools to be charter schools, they have to be overseen by their authorizer. Now, they can be a tutoring school or whatever, but they can't call themselves charter schools.

Charlie Mas said...

They can call themselves whatever they want. They can call themselves charter schools, Innovation Schools, Alternative schools, or Holiday on Ice for all that matters. No matter whaat they call themselves their legal status will be as education support service providers under contract with the Mary Walker School District for the benefit of an ALE program operated by MWSD.

Anonymous said...

"No action will be required by resident districts that approve OSPI's facilitation of the transfers."

Has anyone asked Highline, Seattle, Spokane, or Tacoma if they approved OSPI's facilitation of the transfers? I have heard from someone very involved with the charter lawsuit that Seattle and Tacoma did not approve it and said they would follow existing policy and regulation, Highline approved, and Spokane is a mystery. Obviously other districts are impacted because some kids enrolled the charters that were outside of their district, but I would think that if two out of the four school districts were charters relocated said no, some one is paying attention to the regulations and laws as written.


Charlie Mas said...

Here's a link to a handy-dandy guide published by the OSPI.

From the guide:
"11. How do I transfer my child to a school in a different school district?
If the student is enrolling in an online school program, the parent/guardian (or student age 18 or older) should fill out a Choice Transfer request form provided by the resident school district.

If the student is enrolling in a non-online school program, the process varies. Contact the nonresident school district program before starting the transfer process. Make sure they are accepting new students and find out how to make the transfer request.

Ultimately, the student must be released from his/her resident district and be accepted by the district in which he/she wants to enroll. The student’s home school district must allow the student to attend school in another district if:

* The student’s financial, educational, safety, or health conditions would likely be improved, or
* Attendance in the nonresident district is more accessible to the parent’s/guardian’s place of work or to the location of child care, or
* There is a special hardship or detrimental condition, or
* The purpose of the transfer is for enrollment in an online course or school program offered by an OSPI-approved provider."

So here's a question: Could Seattle Public Schools deny the transfer?
Only if the District acknowledges that the student's educational conditions would likely be improved. None of the other reasons would work.
There is no financial impact, no safety or health impact, the nonresident district is not more accessible, there is no special hardship, and, of course, the school program is not offered by an OSPI-approved provider.

"12. Why was my transfer request denied?
A resident district may deny a transfer request if it would adversely affect the district’s desegregation plan or if none of the four conditions noted above exists. A nonresident district may deny a transfer request based on the acceptance and rejection standards stated in the district’s policy. An approved transfer may also be revoked according to conditions listed in the nonresident district’s policy."

There is more in this guide that might be of interest, including information about ALEs.

Watching said...

Charlie, Thanks for posting. I read those guidelines, as well.

It appears Dorn has given himself the authority to wave these rules:

"No action will be required by resident districts that approve OSPI's facilitation of the transfers."

Dorn waived rules. Seattle, Tacoma and other districts with charter schools do not have to go through the usual process. Charter school students do not have to be released from their home districts. In this case, students would have to be admitted into their home school districts and released to MWSD. In my mind this is the most egregious part of Dorn's plan. Does Dorn have the authority to make these type of decisions? How much power and authority has Dorn given himself? I don't know whether or not Dorn has the authority to waive such rules, but I sure hope an attorney is looking into this issue.

As well, students in ALE must have written student plans (WLSP?). One would expect that the students have these plans in place from day one, but Dorn does not require these written student plans until February.

It would be worth checking to see whether of not SPS was asked to provide an ALE for charter school students. Given the lack of transparency, it is perfectly possible for charter students to be absorbed into SPS/ALE without board knowledge.

Watching said...

Correction: Dorn has given himself the authority to waive these rules.

The usual process would have been a logistical and bureaucratic nightmare. Dorn took -out all the stops.

There is more, but I'll save that for another day.

Watching said...

"So here's a question: Could Seattle Public Schools deny the transfer?
Only if the District acknowledges that the student's educational conditions would likely be improved. None of the other reasons would work."

Charlie, The students in Summit and other charter schools are not enrolled in the district. They are enrolled in charter schools; a separate entity. Under the rules, Seattle student would need to enroll into SPS and then transfer into MWSD. None of this will happen because Dorn waived the rules. Legal?

Anonymous said...

Reuven Carlyle was quoted in the Q.A. News saying that if there is a driving solution for McCleary that also incorporates appropriate oversight, he would be supportive of helping out those kids as well (referring to charters).

Perhaps the unexplained, boneheaded removal of the principal at his kid’s school by SPS may have warmed his heart towards charter schools.

S parent

Melissa Westbrook said...

Watching, I will have to ask.

Charlie Mas said...

@ S parent,

Take a look at this law, RCW 28A.225.010, Attendance mandatory—Age—Exceptions.
According to this law, "1) All parents in this state of any child eight years of age and under eighteen years of age shall cause such child to attend the public school of the district in which the child resides and such child shall have the responsibility to and therefore shall attend for the full time when such school may be in session"
There are some exceptions, but a child cannot enroll in a school district where they do not live unless they were enrolled in their home district and transferred.

Superintendent Dorn does not have the authority to waive an RCW.

Charlie Mas said...

Here is the law that governs districts releasing students to another district: RCW 28A.225.220

Here's what it says:

"(2) A district is strongly encouraged to honor the request of a parent or guardian for his or her child to attend a school in another district or the request of a parent or guardian for his or her child to transfer as a student receiving home-based instruction.

"(3) A district shall release a student to a nonresident district that agrees to accept the student if:

"(a) A financial, educational, safety, or health condition affecting the student would likely be reasonably improved as a result of the transfer; or

"(b) Attendance at the school in the nonresident district is more accessible to the parent's place of work or to the location of child care; or

"(c) There is a special hardship or detrimental condition; or

"(d) The purpose of the transfer is for the student to enroll in an online course or online school program offered by an online provider approved under RCW 28A.250.020.

So which of these applies?
Not (d), the ALE is not an online course.
Not (c), there is no special hardship.
Not (b), the Mary Walker School District is not more accessible.

It would have to be (a). So what would be likely be reasonably improved as a result of the transfer?

Not a financial condition. Not a safety condition. Not a health condition.

In order for a public school district to release a student to a Mary Walker ALE operated by a charter school, the district would have to claim that the child's educational condition would be improved by the transfer. That's a tough thing to ask the district to attest since none of the ALE have any track record at all.

Any family denied such a release could appeal the decision to the OSPI per 28A.225.230. So the Superintendent of Public Instruction would have to say that the student would be better served in the ALE. But, given that the ALE has absolutely no track record, what could possibly form the basis of that conclusion?

The decision of the Superintendent could be appealed to Superior Court, but who would do that?

Lynn said...


Charter schools no longer exist in this state - so the students are not enrolled in or attending any school. We require parents to enroll their child in a public school or approved private school or file a notice of intent to homeschool with their resident district. If they choose to enroll in a public school outside of their resident district they must (except for the exemption Dorn has created) receive permission to do so by their resident district. If they do not do any of these things, their children are truant.

Watching said...

Charlie, I think the answer is (a). Some argue that taking children out of the now defunct charter school would cause harm. Therefore, not moving a child from existing school, and not interrupting educational experience, is the best option for the students. Of course your point about ". But, given that the ALE has absolutely no track record, what could possibly form the basis of that conclusion?"

Lynn, You are correct. Today, former charter schools are neither charter, public or private. What are these schools, today? I imagined that students in defunct charter schools would become part of the MWSD. Dorn states students in defunct charter schools are not considered truant.

Dorn will give credit to those in defunct charter schools:

"Current charter school students who choose alternative short-term solutions will receive credit if they transfer to traditional public schools"

Many of us on this blog are skeptical of I 1240 and charter schools- for good reason.(!)

Melissa Westbrook said...

My comment did get up but here it is. Under charter law, all charter schools are, in and of themselves, a school district. So no need to go to SPS. Now, of course, that law is defunct so who knows?

Watching said...

Charlie, You will probably want to review:

1. WAC 392-121-182.

2. RCW 28A.225.225(4)

School districts that enroll students in ALE programs are wholly responsible for the education of those children. This is true whether the children live in the district or transfer into the district under Washington inter-district transfer law (“choice” transfer).

The Superintendent of Public Education can not change a RCW (statue). The state Superintendent of Education has the authority to adopt rules, but only under the guidance of a RCW. I don't know if Dorn is within his scope.

Charlie Mas said...

And here is where we see the culture of lawlessness writ large.

Superintendent Dorn is free to break these rules because there is no one policing him. Let's suppose that he grants the charter schools and the charter school students all kinds of breaks - they don't have to enroll in their resident districts, they don't have to request transfer from those resident districts, they don't need written student learning plans, and on and on like this. Let's suppose that he violates RCWs all over the place. Who's to stop him? You think the Olympia police are going to roll up, cuff him, read him his rights, and haul him away? Ain't gonna happen.

These laws are COMPLETELY unenforceable if only because no one feels it it their job to enforce them. Who would swear out the complaint? And, if the case were tried and Superintendent Dorn were found to have violated these laws, then what? There is no prescribed consequence.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Charlie, there is one avenue, if not for consequence, for transparency. That would be the State Auditor's office. Luckily, despite the current circumstances with the State Auditor himself, I find the office very responsive.

Anonymous said...

There's always the option to pursue a recall petition against Randy Dorn personally as OSPI is an elected office and malfeasance is basis for a recall. Good current example is the recall campaign against the Pierce County prosecutor.


Anonymous said...

Let's not miss that between the charter issue and the return of setting and monitoring academic standards at the state level, the state Superintendent of Instruction is about to go from backwater politics to front page politics. I suspect the education reform set are already recruiting. Could they get Sundquist to run? Hope not. Dorn has already said he isn't running again. Bet that is one reason he is giving charters an easy pass right now. No skin off his political back.


Watching said...

" And, if the case were tried and Superintendent Dorn were found to have violated these laws, then what? There is no prescribed consequence." Exactly.

What happened to the Charter Commission, Charlie? They opened unconstitutional schools, allowed over 1000 students to enroll in these schools, cost tax-payers $1M and were allowed to walk away. Sundquist went on and on about the Supreme Court ruling and being in uncharted mention of the fact that State Representative Gerry Pollet urged the commission to make a contingency plan to prepare for an unconstitutional court ruling. The Charter Commission failed and walked away without consequence.

As the Charter Commission disbands, the Charter Commission has delegated an individual to work with the state auditor's office. Can you imagine that tangled mess?

Anonymous said...

The state auditor's office headed by Troy Kelley who is being investigated for criminal acts and under threat of indictment. The auditor's office = not exactly effective way to move forward in a nonopaque manner. It's going to take citizens, like-minded legislators and investigative media to keep this from disappearing into the black hole of bureaucracy. Probably what the charter crowd hopes will happen. People will move on and the schools will carry on.


Watching said...

It is important to note that Randy Dorn is willing to change rules that relate to transfers, apportionment, written student learning plans, transfer procedures and enrollment reporting.

Charter schools received their last state funding check in November. Dorn is doing everything possible to assure charter schools receive state funding in the form of ALE. It doesn't matter that on December 12th charter schools do not have an ALE designation. If charter schools receive an ALE designation by December 31st..funding will be provided for the entire month.

mirmac1 said...

The SPI should be enjoined from making up his rules, without following process