Thursday, March 03, 2016

Washington State Charter School Update

It's March 3rd and there is now just one more week until the end of the session on March 10th.  A new bill - 6670 - a so-called "title-only" bill that is a placeholder (along with HB 3000, also a placeholder) for something to come.  Here's 6670 - in its entirety -

Sec. 1. This act may be known and cited as the public schools that are not common schools act.

This Hemingway-length legislation is brought to us by the usual suspects in the form of Senators Fain, Mullet, Litzow and Hobbs.

A little backstory on what this is and how it is happening comes to us via the Tri-City Herald which seems to take a dim view of this type of legislation (bold mine).

The Washington Constitution includes a provision to prevent legislators from considering bills introduced at the last minute. The provision is designed to make sure the public has a chance to learn about the legislation and provide comment.

Article 2, Section 36 of the constitution says “No bill shall be considered in either house unless the time of its introduction shall have been at least ten days before the final adjournment of the legislature, unless the legislature shall otherwise direct by a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house.”

But the crafters of that language underestimated the cleverness of the members of our state legislators and their proclivity for finding ways to avoid public scrutiny.

The constitution fails to spell out that a bill, submitted by a legislator for consideration in the House or Senate, must actually say something when it’s submitted.
Use of this clever path around the constitution has become common practice. A list of title-only bills submitted the past two years can be found on the Washington State Legislature website.

It’s wrong and it’s time for legislators to hold themselves accountable.

Read more here:
Basically, if a legislator can find a way to claim something is part of the budget, they can keep bringing bills to the floor to the last minute.

It's something of a crapshoot because you have to present something that is pretty clear and understandable to ALL of your colleagues because, otherwise, people may balk at voting for something unclear or vague that could come back to haunt them.  Especially in an election year.

The issue of charter schools is so complex, I find it hard to believe that these senators will find that support among their colleagues.

So many editorials keep asking for a "funding fix" when the funding has been found and is really not the issue.  The issue is whether there is elected oversight, either by an elected school board or the state superintendent.  Article 3, Section 22 of the Washington State constitution - which is also being consistently ignored in this charter law discussion - lays out the duties of the state superintendent:
The superintendent of public instruction shall have supervision over all matters pertaining to public schools, and shall perform such specific duties as may be prescribed by law.
Neither the former charter law nor any bill put forth this session addressed this issue.  I'm sure the Supreme Court will take a dim view of yet another charter school law that is unconstitutional.

I note that the wording in the constitution is "shall" - not may, could or hopefully - it's shall. (Just as U.S. Senate seems to think President Obama can ignore his constitutional duty of "shall" in nominating someone to replace the late Justice Scalia.)   As well, the other key to that is "public schools' and not "common schools." 

If charters are indeed, "public schools," then they should be supervised, to some degree, by the state superintendent.  That would cover both the need for elected oversight and follow the constitution and it's a mystery why charter bill writers consistently don't write it in.

On another front, I checked and the charter school sleep-in seems to have attracted little media attention.  I couldn't find a story at any of the tv stations.  What I have seen are more banner ad spots and moving side-ad spots at places like Publicola.  Those aren't cheap but the charter supporters have hugely deep pockets.

Read more here:

Most of the 1 million kids in K-12 public schools in Washington State - or their parents - can’t spare the time to go protest at the State Capitol. That’s especially true of underprivileged children. In fact, a growing number of kids in public schools have no place to sleep at all as their families experience homelessness.

Yet these quasi-public charter schools have not lifted a finger to help those kids by advocating for full funding for public education.  I have tweeted this and got several parents telling me this isn't true.  It may be true on an individual level but I have not heard WSCSA nor a single charter group/school publicly raise its voice for McCleary.  Not at the Legislature and not at their websites.  It appears that PTA parents are the ones doing the heavy lift for something that may, in the end, benefit charter schools. 
Instead, charter schools want to cut in line and take scarce money away from public schools and keep it for themselves. The legislation they support would actually hurt those 1 million kids in public school by allowing quasi-public charter schools to take more money away from K-12 classrooms and away from public oversight and control.
Without that elected oversight, they must not get public funding to do so. They should ask the billionaire donors and the well-funded Super PACs to pay the price - they can easily afford it.

The Seattle School Board passed another resolution at last night's Board meeting against charter schools and charter legislation.  The vote was 5-2. Directors Blanford and Pinkham voted no but not because they are for charters. (I'll have a more in-depth write-up of this very interesting discussion later.)   Whatever legislators want to take from that message, it is clear that Seattle Schools is not interested in charter schools.  (And this is the second Board to vote for a resolution against them.)


NO 1240 said...

Article 2, Section 36 of the constitution says “No bill shall be considered in either house unless the time of its introduction shall have been at least ten days before the final adjournment of the legislature, unless the legislature shall otherwise direct by a vote of two-thirds of all the members elected to each house.”

With 7 days left of the session, the Senate is out of compliance with the Washington State Constitution. The constitution states introduction shall have been at least TEN days....

NO 1240 said...

As well, the constitution states: "... unless the legislature shall otherwise direct by a vote of TWO-THIRDS of all the members elected to each house.”

To me, unlikely the House and Senate will get 2/3rd vote, but Olympia is not seem to care about compliance with the law.

Patrick said...

Sigh. I guess if you're already ignoring the constitution regarding charter schools and funding public schools, ignoring the constitution regarding legislative procedure is small potatoes.

Melissa Westbrook said...

Well, what is left out is there is some clause that the legislature uses to insert new bills that have any kind of impact on the budget. That's how they get away with it legally.

Patrick, clearly the case.

No 1240 said...

"With the deadline to save charter schools just a week away, several "title only" bills have been introduced to serve as a "vehicle" in case a last minute deal can be reached by lawmakers. Amazingly, one of those "title only" bills, SB 6670 was actually adopted by a committee today without changes and sent to the Rules Committee as a blank bill. This means the blank bill could potentially be pulled directly to the floor if a deal is reached and voted on without any public comment on the actual details."

Olympia is out of control.

Melissa Westbrook said...

That is just ridiculous. The people of Washington did not sign a blank check or a blank initiative for charter schools.