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

Spin Control: Charter school celebrations are premature

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 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.

What’s in a name?

A Seattle legislator who is running for an open congressional seat recently suggested Washington review all names of places that could be considered racially or ethnically offensive, and change them.

Democratic Sen. Pramila Jayapal listed at least 48 places in Washington that carry a name some could find offensive. Slightly more than half use the term squaw. Washington has at least five Squaw Creeks in various counties, three Squaw Lakes, Squaw Islands in Klickitat and Clark counties, plus a Squaw Mountain, a Squaw Butte and a Squaw Peak. There are also four Coon Creeks, a Coon Island and Coon Bay on her list.

It seems one could make a case for some name changes based on reducing confusion or an embarrassing lack of originality by cartographers.

Some people familiar with Native American languages argue the term squaw is not, in itself, offensive. As an Algonquian word it means woman, not a particular part of the female anatomy. It depends on how it’s used, and in some cases whether the place is being named for a particular Native American woman who lived there.

As for the places named “coon,” it’s probably naive to suggest they got the label because there were so many raccoons in the neighborhood.

The state Committee on Geographic Names considers such changes. It meets twice a year, and in May will take up a proposal to change Squaw Bay on Shaw Island. The suggested replacement is Sq’emenen Bay, the Lummi Tribe’s name for the area. If it goes through, it may satisfy concerns about a possible racial slur – and become the most misspelled place in the state.

Spin Control, a weekly column by political reporter Jim Camden, also appears online with daily items and reader comments at blogs/spincontrol.