Governor Inslee visits, praises charter school students in Tacoma

By LIV FINNE  | 
Jan 26, 2016
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Throughout Washington’s years-long debate over charter schools it has been unclear just where Governor Jay Inslee stands on the issue. In the past he seemed to signal he did not support allowing children access to charter schools.  Now that may be changing.

On Friday, Governor Inslee visited students at Destiny Charter Middle School in Tacoma, one of eight charter schools under court-ordered threat of being defunded. On Saturday morning Governor Inslee sent out an enthusiastic message and photo.

This positive development may indicate Governor Inslee is prepared to sign the bill passed by the Senate to save charter schools and protect charter school students and families.

That would be welcome news to families across the state.  Charter schools are popular.  Some 1,200 young students attend them, and charter schools in the state are oversubscribed.  Families are literally clamoring to get in.  Charter schools are targeted to help the neediest children.  Seventy percent of Washington’s charter school students are from low-income and minority families.

The bipartisan Senate bill, SB 6194, is championed by Sen. Steve Litzow (R – Mercer Island) and passed the Senate by a strong 2720 vote.  A bipartisan companion bill, HB 2367, sponsored by Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D - Seattle) is under consideration in the House.  Nearly all the Republicans and a number of Democrats have indicated they plan to vote for the bill.  In that case, we can expect it to be sent to Governor Inslee in the coming weeks.

Visiting a charter school and talking to actual students has been known to change minds.  House Majority Leader Pat Sullivan (D - Kent) earlier opposed charter schools, but after visiting Excel Public Charter School he now supports them.  He told TVW’s Austin Jenkins:

"I did not support the charter school initiative, but Excel [Charter] School opened up in Kent. I visited the school, saw the opportunities that the students had. They are very excited. For many of those kids, the public school system may not have worked for them, and they looked for other options. I think we have to look at solutions that will move the system forward…” (at timestamp 44:17)

Seeing charter schools in action is allowing Governor Inslee and lawmakers to look beyond all the heated ideological rhetoric and see for themselves how much children benefit from these innovative, independent public schools.

Charter schools offer students who are underserved by traditional schools a fair shot –  the chance they need to catch up and graduate. For more on the impact of Washington’s charter schools, see our study, “Opening New Doors for Students, Washington’s First Public Charter Schools,” here. 

This report is part of WPC's Charter School Follow-up Project