The House of Representatives passed a revised charter school bill Wednesday that would allow those schools to continue to operate with money from the state Lottery after the state Supreme Court said they don't qualify for money from the general fund..
After some two hours of often passionate debate over nearly two dozen amendments, the House voted 58-39 to try keeping a system that voters approved in 2012 with some new regulations for how they are set up, funded and governed. The bill now goes to the Senate, which could take it up Thursday, the last day of the regular session.
Supporters said the schools need to be saved as an extra tool for the state to help students succeed. Rep. Kevin Parker, R-Spokane, urged lawmakers to not think about the issue as either public schools or charter schools, but a system where both are available. "Vote yes and tell kids that they count," he said.
“What are we afraid of, that a thousand kids are going to graduate high school?”said Rep. Maureen Walsh, R-Walla Walla.
Opponents said the changes likely won't survive new court challenges and lawmakers should instead devote their time, attention and money to the more than 1 million students in the public schools rather than the less than 1,000 now in charter schools.
“The only way to get charter schools right. . . is to amend the constitution." Rep. Patty Kuderer, D-Seattle, said.
Lawmakers agreed to amend the bill to make clear that charter schools are available to homeless students, require them to submit to performance audits and inform parents about the prospect of litigation that could close the schools. They also agreed to require members of the Charter School Commission and charter school boards to file personal financial statements with the Public Disclosure Commission. Republicans originally objected, but later said they were swayed by the argument that those statements add transparency to charter schools.
Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, said the directors of Spokane’s two charter schools are the Spokane Public School board, who are elected and must file those financial statements. None of the state’s other charter schools are tied to district boards, but if it’s good enough for school board members “it’s good enough for everybody,” he said.
They rejected amendments that wouldn't allow more charter schools in the state if a lawsuit challenging their constitutionality is filed within 90 days of the law taking effect, or to limit them to the eight charter schools currently in place or to no more than three per school district. The state currently has eight charter schools, but the initiative would allow that to grow to 40. An amendment failed that .
Also failing were amendments to only allow the charter school law to take effect after the state Supreme Court declared Washington was complying with constitutional requirements to provide for the education of all children, or to remove the bill’s emergency clause, which would allow voters to file a referendum on the new charter school law.