This guest column is authored by State Representative Marcie Maxwell (D-Renton), a former Renton School Board member.
True or false: We’re voting on a charter schools measure that has been rejected by Washington State voters three times. Initiative 1240 would create a bad law and is being funded by a handful of wealthy individuals (and by out-of-state interests known for pushing to privatize education with public schools' money in other states).
True. Initiative 1240 is opposed by the state PTA, association of school principals, associations of superintendents and school boards, the teacher’s union, civil rights groups, community leaders and organizations. It’s proponents have boasted that they will spend any amount of money to get you to vote yes. It’s a bad initiative at a bad time. We need to kill it.
Initiative 1240 would divert millions of dollars from our existing local public schools into a new, experimental system of publicly-funded, privately-operated charter schools.
As a state legislator, I’ve been as frustrated as anybody that Olympia hasn't moved far enough to fully fund our schools. The recession hit our state budget hard, and Tim Eyman's initiatives haven’t helped. Now, we’re under court-order to fund education.
We, the legislature and the people of Washington, have a legal and moral obligation to fully fund basic education for ALL students. Siphoning off scarce funding to new charter schools is not the solution to funding or improving public education in our state, it’s a distraction.
I-1240 authorizes 40 new charter schools and the creation of an unelected partisan state charter school commission, but it does not include any new funding. Instead, these charters take away money from our kids’ existing classrooms.
The proponents actually boast about this. They say charters would be funded by the public. That’s because the state funds individual schools per student. But if 10 or 20 percent of students at a school leave to enroll in a charter, the existing school will receive less money. That means educational services will be cut.
That’s not the direction we should be going with education in this state.
What’s more, research shows that overall, charter schools in other states don’t perform better than public schools, and a large percentage actually perform worse. And just because other states have charters isn’t a valid reason for bringing them here.
Concerns over segregation and the failure to meet the needs of students of color are among the reasons the NAACP opposes charter schools. The most at-risk students and highly mobile students are too often left out or pushed out of charter schools. As a state, we’re responsible for educating all of this state’s children, not just the children who win a lottery competition for charter school admissions.
And what about parents?
I-1240 says that if a majority – 50 percent plus 1 – of current parents or teachers sign a petition, they can force a conversion to a charter school. And the trigger could be applied to any school, whether or not it’s high or low achieving. This makes I-1240 the most aggressive trigger law in the country.
There’s no requirement that parents or teachers even know a petition is circulating. And nothing in I-1240 gives parents any oversight once a private group takes over a school.
True or false: Trigger laws were conceived by concerned parents.
False. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has been a primary force for trigger laws. This is the same group behind “Stand Your Ground” gun laws that have come under public outrage after the Trayvon Martin shooting. ALEC likes trigger laws because they fit so well with its desire to shift public assets to private corporations, without unions.
I-1240 is not a grassroots effort. They paid signature gatherers to get on the ballot. They swore to spend millions of dollars on TV ads. But Washington’s kids and schools are not for sale.
The coalition that has formed to fight I-1240 includes educational, civil rights, parents and community, and labor groups. Far from simply opposing I-1240, many of these organizations know that real education reform should build on:
College prep and professional development for strong principals and quality teachers
Readiness to learn with local communities and leadership supporting children and families
Innovations, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) literacy, career and technical education, and common core standards
Ensuring 21st century skills - communications, collaboration, creativity, critical thinking
Early interventions for struggling students
Businesses and organizations as mentors with real-world internships for students and educators
When it comes to doing what’s best for kids, we should listen to the expertise of many voices—parents, school board directors, superintendents, teachers, principals, education support professionals, post-secondary educators, family services providers, after school organizations, businesses, and civic leaders. See www.peopleforourpublicschools.org.