Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spin Control

Too soon to declare winner in charter school fight

OLYMPIA – Fans of Washington’s public charter schools had reason to celebrate in the last week after the Legislature’s plan to keep them afloat with lottery money became law by running out the clock on Gov. Jay Inslee.

Opponents of the alternative schools probably didn’t celebrate, but likely nodded in agreement, when some of their members announced a few days later they would challenge that law.

The charter school lobby, which seemed to have no end to a supply of photogenic youngsters being saved from a life of crime and destitution through the graces of new educational surroundings, tweeted out pictures of celebratory cakes and the message “Kids win!”

That’s something like declaring victory at half-time in a college basketball game. Opponents all along have questioned the legislative legerdemain of getting around a state Supreme Court ruling that said paying for charter schools out the general fund was constitutional no-no. The new law pays for them out of lottery money… then replenishes that account from the general fund.

Jason Mercier, director of the Center for Government Reform at the pro-charter Washington Policy Center suggested charter fans enlist President Barack Obama to help fight the good fight for the schools. He offered a link to Obama’s kind words to mark the beginning of Charter School Week last year. (It’s in early May, in case you were thinking of hosting a party.)

This may be the first time the libertarian-conservative organization portrayed the current president in such a positive light. But even Mercier would acknowledge the suggestion was unlikely to find time on Obama’s post White House schedule.

This was the first bill in decades to become law without a governor’s signature. Inslee repeatedly had ducked questions about whether he’d sign or veto the charter schools bill. That meant the third option, a relatively rare situation in which an unsigned bill becomes law after a certain number of days unless it is vetoed, seemed likely by the time the governor copped to it.

It’s still a law; the biggest difference is there was no “grip-and-grin” ceremonial signing, where supporters smile for a picture and the governor’s staff passes out pens.

In all, the session generated 28 laws without the signing ceremony – the unsigned charter school bill and the 27 overridden vetoes – which is a record. It goes with several other dubious records for the session, such as the most vetoes in a single day and most vetoes overridden.

People continue to debate the effectiveness of Inslee’s mass vetoes as an inducement to getting a budget deal. He described the tactic as a way to “focus legislators attention on getting the job done.” After the vetoes, lawmakers did get a budget, he said.

That may be an instance of jumping from correlation to causation. Saying the budget deal came after the vetoes, so the vetoes prompted the deal might make as much sense as saying the Zags won a basketball game after I wore my lucky sweatshirt, ergo the sweatshirt prompted them to the win.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

Follow Jim online: