Why the Washington State Charter Bills are Flawed

Senator Rodney Tom, one of the sponsors of the Senate charter bill, has been sending out a form letter to those who write him and are against his bill.   Here is some of what he says and I'm going to answer some of his issues in explaining why this bill is flawed and should not even come up for a vote in the Legislature.

I’m surprised by the veracity of the pushback on charter schools. We’ve been very upfront in that they are a very limited component to improving our education system. Why ten new schools per year out of 2271 schools would be such a threat to the system is a telltale sign how engrained we are with the status quo.

I'm a little unclear on why he used the work "veracity" as it means truthfulness so maybe it was a slip of the tongue.    The Senator is quite right about only 10 schools per year but he also knows that he is creating a LAW, not a pilot project.   Just "trying them" as so many have stated is not really the case when you create a law.

In fact, of the state’s 22 innovation schools recently recognized by OSPI, only five had free and reduced lunch concentrations greater than 50%.

That may be true.  But the truth is that this law does not guarantee that ANY charter school will serve those students and I'll explain why later.

The bill has a fiscal note when we’re already underfunding our schools: Most of the fiscal note is associated with the transformation zones portion of the bill, not charters.

Yes, that is true that most of the money in this bill goes to transformation zones (schools that are taken over by the state).  HOWEVER, all the money in this bill goes to administrative purposes.  None goes to the classroom.

Our state, which underfunds education in existing schools, is going to elect to spent between $10-15M more on K-12 education and none of it will go in the classroom.  And some of that money is to try a system that has a 17% success rate.  And there is no new revenue and Senator Tom does not identify where the money WILL come from.  (To note, neither do any of the charter school supporters.)

If it’s appropriate to waive rules for charters, why not waive them for all schools: We’ve tried for years to deal with basic placement issues, and those efforts have been consistently rejected.

He provides no detail for this so I'm not sure when this happened.   I don't know what he means by "basic placement issues" and he doesn't say who rejected these efforts.

Charter schools will have a much higher level of accountability. A charter school that doesn’t meet its stated goals can be shut down, when was the last time any of our persistently failing schools were shut down?

The first sentence is true except that it is not happening.  Charters, by their charter laws, should be easier to close and yet, you don't see it happening despite their low rate of success.  As I posted elsewhere, this is of great concern to the DOE and many states are starting, to charter operators discomfort, to clamp down.  It only took 20 years.

As for failing schools, well, NCLB has been around 10 years and OSPI had it within its power to shut down failing schools and did not.  That's a state issue, not a union or district one.

Okay, so I'll walk you through this hot mess of a bill.  (As I previously stated, the House and Senate bill are identical.  When I asked Senator Tom who wrote the bill, he said it was a "broad coalition."

Keep these issues in mind as you consider this bill.
- you are considering three separate items in one bill.  This is NOT good legislation.
- we would not be "trying" anything; we would be creating new law
- RAMIFICATIONS - enrollment plan, facilities, money to the district; all of these are real
- Seattle and the Puget Sound region would be the most likely targets for charter schools.

First, this is NOT one bill.  It is three bills in one.  In my research, these three items are usually covered in separate bills.  When I asked Senator Tom about this, he stated that they were trying to cover a lot of ed reform issues.  When I asked him if he might not be considered that a fellow legislator might like one item but not another and so might vote no, he said he didn't worry about that issue.

The three items are:

Charter legislation which says 10 charter schools per year MUST be opened over the next five years. The bill provides that the majority of authorized charters should go to entities who work with "educationally disadvantaged students."  So all 10 authorizations could go to charters that just work with these students.  Or none of them.

I'll explain further but yes, in a nutshell, you have ZERO guarantee that any charter will open specifically to help educationally disadvantaged students.  I believe that is because there has to be a legal freedom for any group to be able to apply and get a charter.  They cannot hold places for any given group/entity.

Transformation Zone Districts which basically means the state takes over the worst of the chronically low-performing schools.  The wording is "at least 10 but no more than 20 in a single year."  These schools would be any not the subject of a currently active federal improvement grant.  Each school would become its own district that OSPI would contract out to a third-party to run.  All staff would have their contracts ended but could reapply to work there or their own district would have to find placement for them (depending on seniority).    The district could appeal the takeover and if they lose, could apply to get the school back in three years if the school makes the necessary progress.

Parent Trigger.  This is a separate law in nearly every state I have found it in.  California's law provides for three things to happen; if a majority of parents (and this can be parents at the school or from in the neighborhood) agree, a charter can take over OR close the school  down OR change the staff.

In this bill, there is only one thing that can happen; if a majority of parents OR teachers sign a petition from an authorized charter school, that charter school can take over an existing school.

This is a very dangerous item and too open to abuse.

Issues in the Bill:

Costs to districts
Supporters of charters say that there is “no” cost to charter schools because money follows students to whatever public school they attend.

What is left out of the above equation:if you have 20, 30 students leave a school, it’s not just losing a teaching spot.   There are economies of scale so that entire school may have to cut back on librarian/nurse/counselor time.

Additionally, there is the issue of a district enrollment plan.  If a neighborhood school became a conversion charter, it would throw off the enrollment plan and cause a district to have to rethink boundaries. That costs money in staff time and possibly includes transportation costs.

If a charter is authorized by a School Board, any levy voted in after their charter is approved, they get their fair share.  Okay, they are public schools.  The only issue is that with operational levies districts don't just dole out the money in equal shares; the district decides how to spend it.  Not for a charter; they will get X amount of money off the top.  It's also the same for capital levy money; the district will not decide, the charter will just get its share (even if it is not in a district-owned building.)

Say one SPS school gets taken over by a charter, one gets taken over by the state as a Transformation Zone district and a new charter opens up near, say, South Shore K-8.   What would happen?

Well, if the one SPS school was a neighborhood school, that's now off-line and all those kids and their families would have to make a choice and the district would be faced with figuring out where they all would go if they didn't stay at the charter.  Say it was RBHS with its auto shop and culinary kitchen - the charter would not be obliged to offer those classes at all and those investments might sit unused.

With the TZ school, again, the kids could stay but as a parent, what would you think?  Would you be happy knowing a completely different group of people were running the school?  Maybe but for those who leave, where do they go?

With the brand-new charter, how many kids does South Shore K-8 lose?

What happens to the FACMAC efforts of trying to figure out capacity management?  The only thing I can see the district doing is more portables until they figure out how much the charter/TZ schools affect our district.

That's a lot to try to figure out.

Charter Enrollment
Anyone can enroll in a charter school.  Anyone.  That means if a kid from Redmond wants to come to a charter in Seattle, he or she can.  (The bill is vague on transportation but I don't believe a district has to provide it.  The majority of charter schools in the country offer no transportation.)

If the school is overenrolled, they then have a lottery.

This section states who can have first “in” to a charter school (before a lottery if the school is over-subscribed) – up to 10% of the school’s enrollment can be children of charter school founders, charter school board members and full-time employees.   This needs stronger language, as there have been issues in other states with charters allowing new parents to receive “founders” status if they donate a fee to the school.   The founder status should ONLY be for those who originally started the school and no one else.

Types of Charters
As I said, 10 new charters MUST be open every year, regardless of who they serve.

There are to be three kinds of authorizers (who also oversee the charters if they were the ones supporting the authorization)

One is a new Washington Charter School Commission, newly-created and plunked into the Governor's office (and I'm sure no matter who our next governor is, neither McKenna nor Inslee is going to appreciate the administrative costs being pushed on them, not to mention a whole new commission in their offices).   The other are school boards for each district.  The other is a larger group - public colleges or universities.
Charters can ONLY apply to one so you can see how charters will have to figure out who would be the best to go to in hopes of winning.   (There is a plus to getting a School Board to okay your charter; you'll get access to levy money, both capital and operational.  Only conversion charter schools can get access to levy money no matter who authorizes them.)

What is troubling is that this bill allows authorizers to contract out their responsibilities out to other employees or contractors.  At the end of the day, how does the public know who really read and reviewed any charter proposal?

But let's say for argument's sake that all 10 of the charters authorized by the three different types of authorizers are for educationally disadvantaged students.   That would be 30 approved charters.  But you can only take 10 charters in the state per year.  How to decide which 10 out of the 30?

Even with criteria, we are talking about different groups.  There's always the issue of human judgment especially since most School Boards are not made up of educators (nor will be the people on the 9-person Commission).  So the approval ranking of charters could vary.

You might think - well, great, there's 30 approved charters for educationally disadvantaged students, so they would send them to another set of eyes who would then look over the 30 approved charters and pick the very best 10 to serve disadvantaged students.

Nope. The 30 names go into a lottery and get picked.  So for all the talk about how great KIPP is, you still might not get a KIPP school.  So we can open charters that score very high on the approval OR are just barely clear the bar for the criteria.

And, if there are only 6 approved charters for educationally disadvantaged students, then the rest of the approved schools - no matter their theme or who they serve, have to be opened. 

There is one other troubling issue.  There are a couple of places in the bill where religious/sectarian groupsare mentioned.  One is who can create a charter and the other is about donations.  In neither place can a religious group or sectarian group open a charter nor donate to a charter school.

However, when it comes to types of charters, the wording says charters can have "theme" but cannot be sectarian.  There is no mention of religion in this section.

This is worrisome because in states like Minnesota, New York, and New Jersey they have had issues over ethnically themed charter schools opening that include teaching about religion as being part of an ethnic group.   The school cannot promote or teach how to practice a religion but you can have religious services at the school after the school day ends.  You could see how this could be an issue.

Charter Boards
This legislation does NOT provide for background checks and child abuse registry checks for charter school board members.  Anyone who will be part of a charter school, whether founders, employees or members of a governance team, should have to have a background check to be around children.

For-Profit Companies
Only non-profits can start charters BUT they can then contract any services, including the management and operations of a charter school to any FOR-PROFIT company.    Bringing in for-profit companies to make money off of running public schools is troubling.

Special Education
In talking about providing a plan for educationally disadvantaged students, the bill mentions, “student discipline for Special Education students.”  Why are these students are called out specifically for discipline issues? A 2010 study of New Orleans schools (which are all charters post-Katrina) stated:

In Access Denied, the first in a series of upcoming reports, the SPLC examines specific barriers related to school discipline and the provision of special education services. According to the report, Recovery School District (RSD) expels students from school at a rate that is 10 times the national average. Only 6.8 percent of RSD students with disabilities graduate — even though they have the ability to earn high school diplomas. Some charter schools suspend students at a rate more than 100 times the state average and refuse to admit students with disabilities.

Parental Involvement 
 The bill is very weak in this area.  It only stated that federal law around “parents rights” is to be followed and then talks about “any related bodies such as advisory bodies or parent and teacher councils and any external organizations that will play a role in managing the school.”   It further states that a charter should explain “opportunities and expectations for parent involvement.” There is no requirement in this bill for parents to be part of the chartering process, whether it is for parents in the neighborhood where the school is to be located OR parents who enroll their children at the charter school.  

Oversight by Communities
The bill does not allow for any redress by parents of students in the school or by neighbors in the community where the charter sits.

Charters have the right of first refusal to purchase/lease at or below fair market value, a closed facility or property OR unused portions of a public school facility or property if the district decides to sell or lease the facility or property.  This means district-owned buildings would pass out of the hands of the district.

Opening Day
A charter can delay its opening for one year and can even ask for an extension.   This would be a hardship for both parents and local school districts as they try to figure out when a charter will become operational.

Working with districts
There is nothing in the bill that would initiate partnerships or sharing of best practices with the districts that the charters sit in.

Whether you are for or against charters, you should be against this bill.  It is too big, too lax and does not address the very issue it says it does; helping educationally disadvantaged students.


seattle citizen said…
Why was he "surprised by the veracity of the pushback"? Everything after opening sentence is, if not a lie, a carefully constructed game of smoke and mirrors. Both distort truth. Once surprised by the truth, he should have conceded his argument - the truth is on the side of the pushers-back.
I think he meant "ferocity" but who knows? His aide seemed a little embarrassed when I pointed it out but he said it, not me.
suep. said…
Or maybe he meant tenacity.

But I actually like "veracity." As Melissa says, it means truthfulness. So he's surprised by the truthfulness of those of us who oppose charters!

Exactly right! We're telling the truth about charters and he's not.
Anonymous said…
Charters failed in Senate ed committee. The leader of the Democratic Caucus & the Dem. head of the Senate Ed Committee both intimated that "democrat" Rodney Tom is a jerk. He apparently tried to hold all ed bills hostage to get the charter bill out of committee. He failed and Dem leadership is P*@#&@*#&d with him.

To tick off the caucus this much he must have some big campaign donations resting on his carrying water for corporate interests and Stand on the Children.

Ed Voter
Jan said…
Great commentary, Melissa. I agree with you -- I think he meant "ferocity" -- but it does have an element of irony to it, given how badly he spins the truth in trying to defend it.

I also sent Senator McAuliffe a heartfelt thanks tonight for facing down really bad legislation. Next up -- chiding emails to the other committee members (many of whom were prepared to vote for it, if it had reached them).
Anonymous said…
Annoyed Anti-Charterite Says:

Today Lynne Varner at The Seattle Times and Shannon Campion at Stand are calling out McAullife and Tomiko-Santos as being status quoers, obstacles, etc. etc. etc.

Anyone notice that when the tables are turned and small independent voices call baloney on the edu-bullies (see Campion and Varner) that they cry boo-hoo it is not OK to personalize the debate?

Load a hooey. I hope people write to McAuliffe and Tomiko-Santos to THANK them. The other side is encouraging the opposite.

Also, I read the link in this thread about Rodney Tom's tantrum. He's the one with the attitude problem from my perspective. I hope the democrat caucus takes his ego down a couple or four notches and then some. No one from Medina gets to privatize our public system no matter how entitled he thinks he is.
Disgusted said…
Tom showed a complete unwillingness to budge..even a little bit.

I too hope his caucus takes Tom down.

Yes, please write to McAuliffe- this can't feel good.
Anonymous said…
Tom knows damn well Stand wrote most, if not all of this bill, or led the authorship of it. That's why Pettigrew was a know-nothing stooge during a KUOW interview about pro-charter legislation last year, being pushed and talked about by Shannon Campion of STAND. Broad coalition? BS. Stand wrote it and the "coalition" probably got cc'd at best.

Second, why does the "parent trigger" trigger only one optional model (charters), instead of reconstituting the entire school, for example? Why are charters the only parent trigger remedy? Why not an alt, option, or simply a new staff? A little obvious preferential treatment here? The fix is in!!

Lastly, and the most obvious KICKER: Giveaway of public school buildings to private parties!! Why of course!! How Gingrichian! How Cheneyan!

Now, who wants to play devil's advocate and deny that the Ed Reform movement is all about privatization and taking ownership of the public education taxpayer fed feeding trough, rather than "helping kids," etc., etc. Thank you, Tom and Pettigrew, for removing any and all lingering doubts about your ultimate aims.

See what I've been screaming about for the past 3 years folks?

Why the greased skids for the land grab of OUR SCHOOL BUILDINGS by private parties? What earthly reason, besides money and profit, would justify such avarice and greed?

Shame on Tom for that egregious support for theft of the community's assets. Like hell he cares about public education with that section in his legislation! Fraud! Con artist! Snake! (Copy that, LEV?) The emperor has no clothes. Tell me again how it's all about "the kids."

Time to squelch these reckless hacks by voting them out of office, pronto, before they can do any real damage. WSDWG
Anonymous said…
And let's remember, with regard to buildings, why the privatizers want them: Education in the NW is a growth industry. Enrollment is up in Seattle, and will continue to climb as the population continues to grow. Hence, our public school land and buildings will become more and more valuable over time.

The Charter snakes want them now, while some sit empty, for a song, because, over time, their investments will pay huge dividends while their competition, public schools, will have to acquire very expensive land elsewhere, or buy back buildings and land from charter operators and significantly higher market prices.

This is right in Chris Jackins's wheelhouse, and it's time we start paying attention to what he says. He's seen this one coming for years, and it's almost here folks.

The last thing I ever want to see happen is for SPS to be paying millions to acquire more land like we gave away in the MLK sale. And its a certainty if we start wholesaling "surplus" properties (as if, long term, there is such a thing as "surplus" properties in SPS). WSDWG

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