Monday, December 28, 2015

Why I Won't Be Debating Charter Schools for the Next Couple of Months

Lately at the blog, my observation is that much of the discussion around charter schools is about whether they are useful, not useful, take resources from other public schools, etc.

I'm not going to be talking about those issues any longer. Why? Two reasons.

1) From some comments, I get the feeling there are some charter supporters (employees?) who are here to stir the pot and/or waste my time. Mind you, I do recognize several names of long-time readers who disagree with me on charter schools and that's fine.

However, my stand on charters is clear and unchanged. I have done my research, I have visited some charters and I feel my opinion has been created on a solid foundation. If you disagree, again fine, but you won't be changing my mind.

(To note, I separate charter school supporters/funders from charter school families. I don't believe the thinking or knowledge base or agenda is the same in both groups.)

2) Like the Supreme Court, I am not here to argue the merits of charter schools.
The Court found the charter school law unconstitutional which is the same thing that many of us working during the No on 1240 campaign said. But we were told - over and over, ad nauseam, that this was the "best charter law in the country." (Maybe, in my spare time, I'll do a count of how many times that was even printed, no less said.)

To start, there is not just one constitutional issue but two. You can ask Superintendent Dorn about the second one - he's been speaking out about it since the charter initiative campaign because it's all about his constitutional duties as State Superintendent of Public Instruction.

As well, there are other troubling issues. Rep. Chad Magendanz, super-charter supporter, has now opined at the Washington Paramount Duty Facebook page that the section on a charter school takeover via a petition needs some adjusting because of the issue that it may violate state law about "gifting" of public funds. That should tell you something.

So there are really several issues in the current (and now-defunct) charter law that need to be addressed. That means that there is no "glitch" or simple fix to this law. It needs an overhaul (because changing one thing in one part of the law likely means a ripple effect to another part of the law.)

The legislative session is a short two months. There are several key issues to get done this legislative session including McCleary. How any legislator believes that there is time for two large public education issues - as well as the other non-public ed work to be done - in this session is beyond me.

I do understand the fierce need on the part of charter supporters (not just the charter school families but the supporters/funders) to save this law.

-They have managed to get several heavy hitters in the charter world into Washington; namely, Summit and Green Dot.
- They mostly fully-enrolled their schools, mostly with enthused parents and students.
- They have a pretty friendly and caring Charter Commission Board and staff as well as a strong (and moneyed) cheerleader group, the Washington State Charter Schools Association who has poured money into print and tv ads.

Most importantly, to NOT get this law revamped would mean these now-defunct charter schools will truly go under. (I'll have a separate thread on the state of these current charters - it's pretty odd and frankly, I'm not sure what these "schools" really are at this point but I'll let you know what Superintendent Dorn's office told says.)

Now as upsetting as all of this may be for charter families, the charter supporters are the ones who got everyone into this place.  They wrote an unconstitutional law and then allowed innocent parents to enroll in schools based on this law, knowing the law was being challenged in the Supreme Court. 

But OSPI has created a way for these students to finish their school year in these "schools." As for next year, I can't say.

The issue is not "charters: good, bad or indifferent?"  The issue is fulfillment of McCleary. 

The legislature needs to get to McCleary and get it done. That IS Job #1 for public education this session. Merely doing "research" and setting up a timetable for McCleary won't do.

Let's look at the big picture.

The Supreme Court ruled on McCleary in Jan. 2012.  Here's a timeline of all the back and forth on it. (And, in case you haven't heard, the plaintiffs filed a motion in November 2015 for more action by the Court on getting this done.   They ask for a couple of basic things:
  • a complete plan for fully implementing the State's program of basic education or each school year to the 2017-2018 school year, addressing each of the areas of K-12 education within ESHB 2261 and SHB 2776; and 
  • must include a phase-in schedule for fully funding each of the components of basic education.15         
Urgency: This Court’s December 2012 Order also made the urgent need for prompt action perfectly clear to State officials:
  • The 2017-2018 school year is a “firm deadline for full constitutional compliance.”16
  • “Given the scale of the task at hand, [this deadline] is only a moment away.”17
  • “We cannot wait until ‘graduation’ in 2018 to determine if the State has met minimum constitutional standards.” Plaintiffs file this motion to request a briefing schedule that enables this Court to make a prompt decision on whether or not the 2016session successfully purges the State’s contempt – and if not, whether a stronger contempt sanction is warranted to compel compliance with the court orders in this case.
The State of Washington via the AG's office has issued a reply.  I'll just state that I think it's a lot of babble designed to CYA the legislature.  It also begs the continuing question of how a "plan" for public education won't involve the rest of the budget (which it does.)  So that means a whole lotta work and not just the creation of a timetable to kick the can down the road.
Frankly, I think the Court has been fairly patient. Some progress has been made and that's admirable. I don't think anyone thought this could all happen overnight but I'm fairly certain the Court did not foresee this kind of dragging of the collective feet of those serving in the legislature.

But McCleary has taken the legislature right to a place where many on the right do not want to go.  
  • They don't want to talk about our state having the most regressive tax system in the country. 
  • They don't want to talk about, no less believe, that our schools are under-funded. 
  • They don't want to talk about the number of tax breaks for large businesses that may or may not be cost-effective for the state. 
  • And, of course, one branch of government NEVER likes another one telling it what to do. 
Smack into this argument comes the charter school law.

While McCleary has far more work to do on it, the point is that McCleary is the work to be done. And, in the end, if charter schools survive (or there's another time and place for a new law to be enacted), that McCleary work will help those schools as well.

The Supreme Court justices don't exist in a vacuum. I'm fairly certain they and their staff read the newspapers and can clearly see what is and isn't getting done on McCleary. They have heard the outcry (and castigation) from charter school supporters and families on their ruling.

Plus there are the scathing reviews from members of the legislature over the justices' unhappiness over the lack of McCleary progress AND the charter school ruling.  In short, what is the Court to do with this kind of legislative lack of intent and disrespect?

I see this as a collision course to a possible constitutional firestorm with McCleary the firewood and the charter school ruling the match that sets it off.

I don't know what will happen come Jan. 11th when the justices see legislators more willing to work on a charter school law for about 1,000 students than enacting a 3-year old court ruling whose enactment will affect 1M+ students.

Houston, we may have a problem.