Friday, January 15, 2016

Olympia: McCleary, Charters and Updates

As I mentioned in another thread, Seattle Channel has one episode of City Inside/Out about this short legislative session with Rep. Reuven Carlyle, Rep. Gael Tarleton, Rep Eric Pettigrew and Senator Jamie Pedersen. 

On McCleary:
Tarleton spoke of "hitting a wall" on the work and mentioned the levy swap and possible "disproportionate impacts" to different areas of the state. She then said something I don't quite get which is that a levy swap would give districts the opportunity "to produce levy resources."

Pettigrew (alluding to the Governor's "work group") said he hadn't "been working on that stuff" and there's something of a stalemate over the issue.  He seemed very disinterested in the topic.

Pedersen talked about the Supreme Court's ability to "blow up tax breaks" and that it would basically be a "legislative do-over" and allow the Legislature to redo the tax breaks but with "no legislative fingerprints."  He noted that the plaintiffs in the McCleary case were asking the Court to consider even more drastic measures like shutting down the K-12 school system (as they did during a summer in New Jersey when they had a similar situation) or shutting down the state budget.

Pedersen also corrected host Brian McCallhan, saying that McCleary is not solely the fault of the legislature but also of the state and voters.  He said voters send mixed messages when they pass things like 1351 and then the Tim Eyman measure.

Carlyle said there could be several ways to fulfilling McCleary like property tax, capital gains tax, or a combination of things.  (And again I ask, if they have money in the Opportunity Fund, why not use some of that as well?)

On Charters:
Pettigrew perked right up on this subject.  He said charters were not "dead" and that as long as they are open, they are alive.  (I'm guessing he didn't get the memo that they no longer exist as charter schools.)

He ended with the timeless ed reform line about "not focusing on kids" and letting "adult issues" get in the way.

On Eyman initiative:
Pedersen said it appears to be unconstitutional and hopes courts "will resolve it for us."  He also said there is no "Plan B" if that doesn't happen.  He said that he hopes that the courts "that so many of his colleagues spend time disparaging will actually come to our rescue." 

Hopes for this session:
Pedersen said his were getting better school construction assistance in Seattle because of the booming school population.   The big thing is to draw a good contrast with Republicans in the upcoming campaign season (meaning, elect people you believe will actually get things done.)

Pettigrew (no surprise) said the "biggest thing" is solving the charter school issue.  He said this would be what would take the "majority of his energy."(People of the 37th, please remember this for future reference.

Tarleton said reaching common ground to fund the kids was most important.  Two other areas: affordability for higher education (one free year of college at least) and jobs for middle class.

Carlyle said ethnics in government with a bill he has to provide a 12-month "cooling off period" where those who worked in government can't just turn around and become a lobbyist.  He said the Legislature has to come out of the contempt citation from the Supreme Court and "fully fund our paramount duty."

It is fascinating to listen to Pedersen, Carlyle and Tarleton go in-depth on several topics and yet Pettigrew seemed to only truly care about charter legislation.

My Visit to Olympia

I went down to Olympia on Tuesday to testify before the Senate K-12 committee on the two charter school bills.  There were at least 30 charter students there (and the senators seemed to love seeing them so really, take your kids out of school and bring them down.)

- Senator Joe Fain let everyone know his position by wearing the exact same blue charter shirt as charter supporters.  I think it fine when legislators have an option but it's more than a little off-putting when, as a citizen, you come before a committee and hope they will listen to your points.  He was clearly thumbing his nose at those of us who did not agree with him.

He also made fun of one speaker's deep voice, teasing him about sounding like a voiceover person for movies.  Very odd.

- Superintendent Dorn came forth first.  (Out of unhappiness at the lack of progress over McCleary, he had skipped the Governor's State of the State speech.)  He said he had visited the very first charter ever created in the country.  He said he TOLD drafters of the charter initiative that there were key problems with it and offered to him.  They ignored him.  He said he sent a letter to the "work group" saying he would like to work with them and was ignored.

But, he then said that once the law was passed, he believed charter school students were public schools students (which is true but they are "common school" students.)  He said, "I didn't want to stop funding them" which is confusing because I thought that was the Supreme Court's call, not his.
He said it would have been a "burden" on existing school districts to take these students in and it was "hard to find teachers."

He also then mumbled about "we did something that I have within my office - to write rules" and he did so for the ALEs.  He said his office had "recruited someone to help us out" meaning, Mary Walker School District.  (Indeed, MWSD was contemplating the ALEs as early as October as public disclosure documents reveal.)  He said BUT this is a "one-time, one year change of rules" and the charter student issue had to get settled.

He claims that some districts are cooperating with signing off the students to MWSD.  I am still checking but, to date, it isn't Kent, Seattle or Tacoma.  I'm still waiting on Highline.

Again, one other constitutional issue that both these bills and the original initiative miss is the oversight that the state superintendent is supposed to give to all public schools.  So far, I cannot find that role written into either bill in a real way (6194 does but it won't work.) 

- the chair of the committee, Senator Steve Litzow, had staffers come forward to explain the two bills, SB 6163 and 6194 (which the senator is sponsoring.)

What was interesting in the testimony is that supporters of charter schools were definitely (and almost evenly) split between the two bills for different reasons.

Details on SB 6194
- the Charter Commission would be funded out of the Opportunity Fund which means even MORE funding from that source for charter schools (as charter themselves would be funded out that fund.)  They forecast that cost at about $800K.  The claim is being made that the other programs served by the fund like ECEAP (state-funded pre-K) and scholarship won't be impacted by another program coming in.  Senator Bruce Dammeier said "the net cost would be zero."  Yes, I know, it's a bit hard to fathom except that one staffer made reference to the Powerball lottery.  I believe the forecast for the fund is $265M.

- Litzow got on the same train as the other bill's sponsors with "charters are part of the solution" and "one size fits all doesn't work."

- one piece of testimony came from former SPS staffer Bree Dusseault now heads Green Dot.  She said they needed help from the "court-created mess."  She didn't mention if Green Dot had warned their families on all the possible outcomes of the ruling.

- also, 6194 says that the State Superintendent (or designee) AND the chair of the State Board of Education would also be part of the Charter Commission.   The Superintendent is, of course, elected but sending a designee is the same thing as the Governor appointing commissioners.  It's not elected oversight.  The chair of the BOE may or may not have been elected by a school board.  Either way, not elected oversight.

Details on 6163
This bill is being put forth by Senators Billig and Baumgartner from Spokane.  Their bill makes the only authorizers district school boards.

To note, there is repeated references - at this hearing and in other places - that the charters would be under the control of the school district.  Reading the bill, this is NOT true.

It is the intent of the legislature to allow school district boards of directors to authorize district charter schools that will be able to operate with greater flexibility in order to meet their students' needs. 
That may sound picky but having school boards with oversight means there is ELECTED oversight.  This bill eliminates the Charter Commission which has very big ramifications.

I also want to note that school boards will have several real powers but will NOT be directing how charters operate:

- overseeing charter contract fulfillment
- length of school day
- length of school year
- HR issues
- curriculum
- "selected budgeting decisions" 

FYI, districts can currently allow schools in their districts to have longer days or school year.  Our district has done this in a couple of schools.  As for curriculum, I think we all know that is certainly not just a district decision with a number of different curriculums used throughout the district.

Senator Baumgartner then said a key message that came back in later testimony - he said that "Right now, people don't pay enough attention to school board elections and it (this bill) will help do that."
One person testified that school districts get levy funds and charter schools get foundation funds that districts don't.  I'm guessing she didn't read either the original law or this bill because yes, charters would get levy funds.
Then we had the guy from the Washington Roundtable (a business organization for public ed) as well as rep from another business group.  He liked 6163 and she liked 6194.  Also in their group was a student from Summit Olympus who said she got to "pick her subjects" and the class size is small.

Senator Rosemary McAuliffe asked about the smaller class size.  Both business reps said class size either only mattered in lower grades or not at all.
However, every single charter student who came forward referenced a smaller class size.
There were reps from the Washington Association of School Administrators and Washington State School Directors' Association.  Both liked 6163 better because of the oversight from school boards.  They feel OSPI is the "executive agency" responsible for these schools. 

But then they all ran into the biggest issue for 6163.  While it does provide elected oversight, it also means two things. 

One, that the charter school authorizer issue would become a litmus test for school board candidates.  This is exactly what caused other states to see enormous sums of outside money pour into their school board campaigns.  There would be no amount of money too big to spend in order to get a school board that would agree to be an authorizer.  (Because, once a district becomes an authorizer, they cannot back out.  There is no other authorizer to take over their charter schools under this bill.)

Two, if a school board, for whatever reason, didn't want to be an authorizer, that would mean that region of the state might not have any charter schools.  Senator Christine Rolfes got into a bit of a debate over this issue, saying that it would be unfair to have a charter law and then no way for some students to access a school.

There were some shrugs and "well, that's democracy."  

Senator Rolfes also said she wanted to find a solution to allow these schools to stay open but she had concerns over the money.  She said it "had to be structured perfectly" otherwise, they were opening themselves up to privitazation and that voters didn't vote for that.  She said there had to be room for amendments.

SB 6194 has been voted out of committee.  The next step is to be read in an open session of the Senate and then moved onto the Rules Committee.  The Rules Committee can put it up for debate or no action.  

There has been no vote on SB 6163.


No 1240 said...

Kevin Jacka served on the Washington State Charter Commission and he is the superintendent of Mary Walker School District. Jacka wears many hats. He is also in charge of Public Record Requests.

I'm having a hard time getting documents from Mary Walker School District. I've been told that documents might not be sent until March 11th. I find this interesting because the legislative period ends on March 10th.

If anyone has information about FOIA laws...please let me know. I have a feeling Jacka is playing games.

No 1240 said...

"It is the intent of the legislature to allow school district boards of directors to authorize district charter schools that will be able to operate with greater flexibility in order to meet their students' needs. "

It should be noted that a charter school operator in Florida is filing a lawsuit against a school board for not authorizing a contract. Charter schools are a disaster and unconstitutional in Washington state. Very important for these bills to die in Olympia.

I'm not surprised about Pettigrews comment about charter schools. I always believed that once charter schools are open...they will be difficult to close.

Anonymous said...

SB 6194 will have a Public Hearing in the Senate Ways & Means Committee on Monday, Jan. 18 at 3:30.


Anonymous said...

Of course Jacka is playing games--Mary Walker has been under binding conditions from OSPI for quite a few years running, and that $2m bribe from the Gates Foundation is going to save his bacon:


All this nonsense about best for kids and saving the system is puff; he wanted to cash out, and he's doing it.


No 1240 said...


What do you mean by:

"--Mary Walker has been under binding conditions from OSPI for quite a few years running"...

In 2014, the Mary Walker School District discussed getting a loan from the Stevens County Treasurer. I'd imagine the MWSD was having financial troubles. OSPI distributes checks to Mary Walker School District through the Stevens County Treasurer, which seems odd.

NO 1240 said...

Thanks for the audit link, Ryan. Interesting information regarding the Mary Walker School District:

The District’s General Fund ending fund balance since fiscal year 2011 is shown
General Fund Ending
Fund Balance
$ 216,988
$ 372,690
$ 303,736
$ 84,293
The 2014 general fund ending fund balance includes approximately $65,000
committed for specific purposes that is not available to spend on general
The general fund ending balance as of March 31, 2015, was a deficit of
approximately $189,800. In addition, in fiscal year 2015 the General Fund
borrowed $170,000 from the Capital Projects fund in order to meet immediate
cash needs.


'The District’s informal strategy has
not been effective in improving the District’s financial condition"


Considering Mary Walker's financials, I'm not comfortable with the Mary Walker School district over seeing charter schools. Wow.

No 1240 said...

Consider Mary Walker's financials, I'm not surprised that they haven't updated their budget information on their web page, since 2014-2015. Strange things happening in the small school district which is located 50 miles north of Spokane!

Anonymous said...

This isn't a pro/con charter comment. It makes sense to me from a practical money management standpoint for tiny, poor school districts to use a county entity to help disburse or hold funds. It's not like SPS where we have so many, highly paid central staff to do excellent accounting work and update our web page and to make it user friendly. This district figures it can get more state money to augment its operational budget by offering charter service which OSPI seems open to.

It's expensive to have 295 school districts. Part of figuring out McCleary funding can be finding ways to save/reduce cost along with finding ways to fund. I think this combo is this state's best bet to push through the political log jam to find compromises.