Washington State House Democrats


Statement from Rep. Pollet on the Supreme Court ruling regarding charter schools

There is no escaping the reality that our state is failing to come close to fully funding public schools and providing each child in Washington with their constitutional rights to basic education with an adequately paid, well trained teacher in a classroom that isn’t overcrowded.

In a sound and clear decision, the Washington Supreme Court agreed that handing over public funding to schools which are not accountable to voters is unconstitutional.

Diverting state and local school levy money into a privately run school which caps enrollment, while the surrounding public schools get more overcrowded, hurts every child’s rights.

The 6 Justice majority gets this right in saying the state can’t be diverting school funds to charter schools, which even the 3 dissenters agree are not “common schools”. Diverting general funds to privately run schools that are not part of, or accountable to, any elected school board or to the statewide elected Superintendent of Public Instruction, is diverting common school funds from our basic constitutional duty.

What will happen with the charter schools?

The reason why I say the charter school commission is not suited to be the regulator when it is also chief cheerleader for charter schools is illustrated by the fact that the board chair is quoted in the Seattle Times as saying they hadn’t done anything to prepare for, or require charter schools to warn parents of, the obviously possible Supreme Court decision finding the initiative declaring charter schools unconstitutional. They were urged to have plans for the potential for the Court to strike down charter schools, to have backup plans with the local districts, and make provisions for students to be enrolled in their local school district if desired. However, because they were cheerleaders, not regulators, the commission kept its head in the sand.

Here’s the link if you’d like to read the Court opinion for yourself.

On Sunday September 6, 2015, the Seattle Times reported that some legislators have called for a special legislative session to fund charter schools for a year while “fixing” them.

The Times quoted my response:

State Rep. Gerry Pollet, D-Seattle, said Saturday he would oppose a special legislative session to rescue schools that have been ruled unconstitutional.

He also criticized the state charter commission for not doing more to prepare parents for the possibility that the Supreme Court would overturn the charter-school law.

“It was totally irresponsible of the commission to proceed to have the schools open and not even have a communication and fallback plan … for what was a clearly possible outcome,” Pollet said.

Holding a special legislative session to fund unconstitutional private schools while we fail to fund public schools is an absolute non-starter for me.

I told the Times that it would be funny, if it weren’t so sad, that the Senate Republicans would want us called into a special legislative session to fund and bail out private charter schools, when they have REFUSED to work with the rest of the legislature and governor to develop plans for the state to pay for public schools. It’s our duty to provide each child with the opportunity they deserve not to have an overcrowded classroom and to have a well-trained and paid teacher as ordered by the Supreme Court.

The Court’s decision does not open the door for the legislature to substitute other general fund money to bail out charter schools, even for one year. The entire set up of schools with no accountability to a local school board or any other elected official is unconstitutional. According to the Times, that’s expected to be $14 million this school year that won’t be diverted from local school districts.

The charter schools’ boards need to sit down in the next week with their local school district and work out agreements to either have the school district run the school or have an assignment plan for the students. Remember, school districts can (and do) run schools with innovative and different programs. However, charter schools are subject to the same standards as we hold all schools to and with the teaching staff given the same benefits as other teachers (the charter school initiative banned teachers in charters from being part of the local union).

If we succeed in lowering class sizes and properly paying for our children’s schools and teachers, a lot of the marketing for charters will dry up. It’s fundamentally unfair that they can market caps on class and school size, with public dollars, which directly increases the overcrowding in the public schools around them.

I’m working in the legislature to find agreement to pay for public schools, not private schools.