Charter school proponents were turned back by voters in 1996, 2000 and 2004, but they finally reached the summit in November. Initiative 1240 clears the way for up to 40 charter schools to be established in the next five years.
Unfortunately, more battles could be looming, because the state teachers union remains miffed, and the state schools chief isn’t satisfied with his non-role. They may be tempted to team up and take the initiative to court. We suggest they sit tight and give this idea a chance.
The union’s objection looks to be nothing more than sour grapes. It didn’t want this initiative to pass in the first place, and is now suggesting that voters were overwhelmed by an expensive campaign. It’s true that money was on the side of charter schools. Wealthy reformers led by Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates spent $11 million, but that doesn’t mean they were peddling information that voters couldn’t comprehend. The Washington Education Association spent a fraction of that amount in opposition, but perhaps that was a strategic choice to hang on to its cash for court challenges.
The WEA announced to its members in a holiday newsletter that a legal fight was in the offing, though no paperwork has been filed to date. Union leadership said it was looking for potential partners to join them.
Meanwhile, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn says the initiative takes some control from his office, which he considers to be unconstitutional. Complicating matters for him is that the attorney general’s office would have to defend the initiative in court. Dorn might need to tap his own budget for legal costs, or he could split the tab with the WEA. He is urging the Legislature to alter the initiative to give him control, which would require a two-thirds majority in each legislative chamber.
The initiative calls for two entities to review school charters. The state Board of Education will authorize local school boards to authorize them. A state commission will be formed to do the same. The state panel will be made up of nine members: three appointed by the governor, three by the lieutenant governor and three by the speaker of the House of Representatives. In addition, charters must meet 32 standards detailed in the initiative. The process is so rigorous that officials don’t expect any charter schools to open this year.
Charter schools need not be centers of controversy. Forty other states have implemented them. Washington proponents have waged an 18-year battle to win voter approval. The state has oversight, even if it is indirect.
If for some reason the process needs reforming, lawmakers can revisit the issue in two years, when it would take only a simple majority to take action. Charter schools will not be hurried into place. We see no need for a rush to the courthouse.