SEATTLE – Gov. Jay Inslee has decided to let the Legislature’s charter school fix become law without his signature.
His decision announced Friday afternoon marks the first time a Washington governor has let a bill become law without his signature since 1981.
The governor said in a letter about his decision that he remains concerned about the public accountability and oversight provisions of the bill.
“At its foundation, our public school system relies upon locally elected boards to oversee the expenditures of taxpayer money. This bill provides an option for similar oversight, but would ultimately allow unelected boards to make decisions about how to spend public money,” the governor wrote.
The governor said he let the bill become law, despite his reservations, because he did not want to close schools.
Charter supporters said earlier in the day they were hopeful the governor would decide to sign the bill.
“We would love to have his signature and have that endorsement of support,” said Maggie Meyers, spokeswoman for the Washington State Charter Schools Association. “What’s important is that the schools and the sector remain open.”
The nonprofit charter association has led the campaign to keep charter schools open in Washington state while lawmakers debated an answer to the Washington Supreme Court on its decision that the state’s charter school law adopted by voters in 2012 is unconstitutional. The court took issue with the way the schools were funded and managed.
Meyers said the association heard that the governor and his staff gave a lot of thought to the issue.
“We’re aware there are a lot of political pressures,” she said.
David Ammons of the Washington secretary of state’s office says the last time a governor let a bill become law without his signature was in 1981, when Gov. John Spellman did not sign two measures: one on mandatory school busing and another on ferry system labor relations.
Senate Bill 6194 passed out of the Legislature on May 10 will change the way the state pays for charter schools, taking money from lottery sales instead of the state general fund, which supports other public schools.
Charter advocates said they believe the bill addresses all the constitutional questions raised by the Supreme Court because it makes clear that charter schools are no longer common schools as the state Constitution labels Washington’s more traditional public schools.
Tom Franta, CEO of the Washington State Charter Schools Association, has said he expects another lawsuit will be filed in response to the new law. But he is confident the result will be in their favor this time.
Washington’s eight existing charter schools have been in limbo since the Supreme Court ruling in September.
A ninth school – First Place Scholars in Seattle – turned back into a tuition-free private school after the court decision. Most of the rest joined the Mary Walker School District in Stevens County school district under state guidelines for Alternative Learning Experiences and continued to receive state dollars. One remained an independent school supported with donations.
Three other charter schools were previously approved to open next fall and will not be required to go back through the initial approval process.
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