Plan to protect charter schools helps address education inequality

Teachers, staff, students, and supporters rally at the Washington State Capitol in support of Act Now for Washington Students, a group that advocates of charter schools. November 19, 2015.

Public charter schools must remain an option for current Washington students and thousands more who would benefit from them in the future, according to Sen. Steve Litzow and Rep. Eric Pettigrew. A bipartisan group of lawmakers today announced a proposal that would keep the doors open, maintaining the voter-approved schools as one tool to address Washington’s opportunity gap.

“Public charter schools are a meaningful opportunity for students – especially minority children from low-income families – who are disproportionately failed by Washington’s inequitable public school system,” said Litzow, chairman of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. “Education quality – and inequality – is the paramount concern for students, parents, teachers, and lawmakers as well as voters, who made Washington the 42nd state to allow charter schools. No single reform will alone ensure we can meet Washington’s duty to provide a high-quality education to all children. Historic investments for public education in 2015, the expansion of charter schools and other research-based reforms supporting our most at-risk students will help close the state’s opportunity gap and strengthen the entire public education system.”

The legislation, sponsored in the Senate by Litzow and Sens. Joe Fain, R-Auburn, Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah and Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, makes a series of updates which include directing charter school funding to come from the state’s Opportunity Pathways Account, which contains state lottery revenues not restricted to common schools.

“The opportunity to get a great education should be available to everyone, regardless of their zip code or the color of their skin. But many students, especially students of color, are not getting the education they deserve in our current system,” said Pettigrew, D-Renton, who serves as House Majority Caucus Chair. “In 2012, students, families and Washington’s voters agreed that charter schools should be a part of the solution to a public education system that is leaving too many kids without the education, hope and opportunity to achieve the American dream.”

In September 2015 the state Supreme Court declared charter schools unconstitutional and later denied a reconsideration request from state Attorney General Bob Ferguson. A bipartisan, bicameral group of lawmakers, including Litzow and Pettigrew, also filed a brief with the court raising concerns about the ruling. Washington currently has eight open charter schools following the 2012 passage of Initiative 1240, which allows up to 40 schools to be opened by state-approved non-profit organizations.

The bill will receive a public hearing in the Senate education committee at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, January 12, the second day of the 2016 legislative session.