OLYMPIA – A possible fix to Washington’s charter school law received final approval from lawmakers Thursday, giving the schools a chance of staying open with Lottery money.
On a 26-23 vote, the Senate sent Gov. Jay Inslee a bill that supporters say will allow charter schools to overcome a ruling by the state Supreme Court that they can’t receive money from the general fund because they don’t meet the constitutional definition of public schools.
To overcome that, SB 6194 takes money from another source, the Lottery proceeds, then refills that from the general fund. Sen. Jamie Pedersen, D-Seattle, called that “merely a shell game” that won’t pass scrutiny with the court, and other opponents said the bill would be challenged and lead to more Supreme Court action.
So be it, said Sen. Mike Baumgartner, R-Spokane. “That’s not an indictment of the bill. That’s an indictment of the court.”
Baumgartner’s contention the court had bowed to the will of campaign donors in its ruling brought complaints from the bill’s opponents that he was improperly impugning the motives of the court. But Lt. Gov. Brad Owen refused to gavel Baumgartner to silence, saying the Senate has rules against members impugning each other’s motives, but no rule against impugning the court.
Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, said he opposed the bill because it didn’t meet two important criteria for a charter school fix: certainty for the families whose children are enrolled in the schools and control by local voters. He supports Spokane’s two charter schools and had proposed a different bill that would have required all Washington charter schools to come under the control of their local school board like Pride Prep and Spokane International Academy did when they were established.
His bill would have satisfied court concerns about the lack of voter control over charter schools, he said, and wouldn’t have needed to find a new source of money. It never got a vote in the Senate.
Much of the debate in the Senate revolved around a key point of contention throughout the session as charter school fixes moved through the process: Is it more important for lawmakers find a way to provide funding for voter-approved charter schools, which currently serve about 800 students, or concentrate on improving the state’s main public school system, which serves more than 1 million.
“We haven’t done the things we need to do” for public schools, Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle, said. “If we had a public school system that meets the needs of children, we wouldn’t need (charter schools).”
But Sen. Steve Hobbs, D-Lake Stevens, said the state needs many options to meet different students’ needs.
“Educating our children is not cookie cutter,” Hobbs said. “For (charter students) this is what they need. . .We should at least try to support it.”
SB 6194, the charter school “fix”, passed the House Wednesday and the Senate Thursday. Here’s how Spokane-area lawmakers voted.
Among Spokane-area representatives, Republicans Mary Dye, Jeff Holy, Joel Kretz, Bob McCaslin, Kevin Parker, Joe Schmick, Matt Shea and Shelly Short voted yes; Democrats Timm Ormsby and Marcus Riccelli voted no.
Among Spokane-area senators, Republicans Mike Baumgartner, Mike Padden and Mark Schoesler voted yes; Democrat Andy Billig and Republican Brian Dansel voted no.