Lawmakers are proposing an alternative to a citizens initiative aimed at creating unlimited private schools paid for with taxpayer money.
The bill, HB2380, would create a pilot program for just 25 so-called charter schools, considerably fewer than the number sought by initiative backers.
Another difference is the bill would require greater control and oversight of the schools. It would gives sole authority to district boards to grant - or license - the schools.
Still, the bill and the initiative share a common theme.
Charter schools, while receiving public money, would have greater autonomy to pick courses and set their own budgets.
They could be started by private non-profit organizations, and would have their own board of trustees for oversight and policy.
Initiative supporters see the House bill as a way to derail their proposal, which is expected to be on the November ballot. They say the bill would blunt support for their idea because foes could argue the Legislature already has a test system in place.
“The goal of…of politicians and administrators is to create a bill so watered down that a charter school will never open in this state,” said Fawn Spady, co-chairwoman of the initiative campaign.
Spady said because school board members are unlikely to surrender oversight powers to taxpayer-funded private schools it is doubtful any schools would be approved.
The initiative, unlike the bill, would allow an arbitrator or the superintendent of public instruction to grant a charter school license if the district rejected the idea.
Author of the alternative, Rep. Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon, said the bill is a logical step toward charter schools.
Quall said charter schools as allowed in his bill could fill the needs of larger districts where current methods of education appear inadequate. He said although his bill does not exclude small and rural districts, community involvement in those districts is already at a level that makes them unnecessary.
“I see this program thriving in Seattle, Tacoma and Spokane,” Quall said. “I don’t think it’s a threat to small districts because they already have widespread community involvement.”
The bill is on its third trip to the Legislature where it has been rejected in the previous two sessions.
Quall said the furor surrounding the initiative gives his bill the momentum it needs to pass this time.
“I’ve got the support to pass it all the way through both houses,” Quall said.
Rep. Jean Silver, R-Spokane, said she supports the concept of charter schools on a limited basis. “I would like to have some of them starting to do it,” she said.
Silver said groups proposing initiatives often don’t put as much thought behind their measures as legislators do.
“We don’t think they’re being as careful with this as we would be,” Silver said.
Rep. Helen Sommers, D-Seattle, who has spoken on many educational issues, said the initiative is radical and divisive.
‘If you get a split vote, say 51 to 49 (on the initiative), you will have an underlying split in the community,” Sommers said.
Sommers said she supports the alternative measure because the charter school idea is rather new and should start out as a pilot program and be expanded when it shows merit.
“We don’t know what it will do - it’s experimental,” Sommers said.
A Newman Lake supporter of the initiative, Christine Lund, said after having administrators belittle her appeals for sex education course changes in the East Valley School District, changes to the system have to be larger than a pilot program.
“Is it necessary to run a test when the current schools have failed so dramatically in meeting their basic objectives?” Lund asked.
The initiative will go before both the House and Senate Education committees Monday. It appears the legislature will do nothing and the measure will go right to the November ballot.
It is unlikely that the Legislature will act on the initiative.