Lawmakers hold hearing to save Washington’s charter schools


The day before yesterday I attended a hearing of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee in Olympia. Senators were considering two bills to save charter schools in Washington state,  SB 6194 and SB 6163. The room was jam-packed with charter school students, families, lobbyists, and members of the media. As I have written here, opponents are working to take charter schools away from Washington’s students. To see and hear the testimony offered on these bills, watch TVW’s video of the hearing, which will be available soon here.  

I heard charter school students and parents testify in glowing terms about the teachers and leaders at their charter schools, and about their charter school’s excellent learning programs. One student said the attention she is getting from her charter school teachers is putting her dream of attending college within reach. Another student said her parents are afraid they will lose their charter school. One parent traveled from Spokane to tell the senators that students at Spokane International Academy charter school are making profound learning gains. One after another they respectfully asked the senators to save their charter schools.

SB 6194, sponsored by Senator Litzow (R-Mercer Island), Senator Mullet (D-Issaquah), Senator Fain (R-Kent) and Senator Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens), fully responds to the pleas of charter school families. Its companion bill in the House is HB 2367, sponsored by Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-Seattle), Rep. Larry Springer (D-Kirkland), Representative Kevin Van De Wege (D-Sequim), Rep. Chad Magendanz (R-Issaquah), and many other representatives.

SB 6194 is well-drafted, focused legislation which would re-enact and amend the charter school law passed by voters in 2012, and save Washington’s charter schools. This bill provides funding to charter schools from the Opportunity Pathways Fund, bringing the charter school law into compliance with the state supreme court ruling.

SB 6163, sponsored by Senator Billig (D-Spokane), unfortunately, would not save charter schools. Under SB 6163, charter schools would be put under the control of school district bureaucracies, so the schools would lose their independence and no longer be charter schools.

I was invited to testify.  When it was my turn, I said what was obvious to everyone in Senate Hearing Room 1 that afternoon.  I said charter schools are very popular with parents. I said charter schools are especially popular with low-income and minority parents. I told the Senate committee that charter school enrollment in the nation has jumped from 1.7 million students in 2010-11 to 2.9 million students in 2014-15. Parents are eager to enroll their children in charter schools. Most of Washington’s eight charter schools were oversubscribed, with more applicants than the limited number of charter schools can accommodate.  

SB 6194 is good education policy for Washington state. The Litzow/Pettigrew bill would keep charter schools open to Washington’s school children and families. These legislators, Democratic and Republican legislators alike, are intent on honoring the will of the voters, who clearly said they want charter school options for their children. SB 6194 would honor the voters will and provide Washington’s school children the chance to learn and to thrive at a high-quality public charter school.  

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

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