I learned yesterday and had confirmed today that the charter school legislation may not yet be dead in Olympia this year. Even if it does not resurface in some legislative way it appears likely in this Seattle Times article that reformers will take it directly to the people. There is growing frustration on both sides of the aisle that this is a needed reform in our state.
The leaders said they prefer to work with lawmakers on a compromise that would allow for at least a handful of charters — public and free but independent schools that use unconventional techniques. But resistance from the Legislature's controlling Democratic Party has made that increasingly unlikely as the session nears its conclusion.
"Because the teachers union and (Democratic) leadership won't consider lifting Washington's ban on charter schools, there are some rumblings of an initiative," said Lisa Macfarlane, state director of Democrats for Education Reform, a political-action committee.
Even though the issue has been rejected three times by voters in our state, many in the reform movement believe that the timing is right. In a recent study conducted by the Washington Policy Center, 60% of those contacted said they strongly or somewhat support charter schools and 25% said they strongly or somewhat oppose charters. When asked about charters that serve low-income and minority children in urban areas the support was even greater. The data is being used by reformers to support their position. Below is an excerpt from a Policy Center release on February 23rd.
"We often hear that people in Washington don't want charter public schools. These findings show just the opposite," said Paul Guppy, Vice President for Research at Washington Policy Center. "Washington has been called an education reform backwater. It appears support for lifting the ban is growing as people learn about how charter public schools in other states are achieving amazing results for children, even in some of the country’s toughest urban neighborhoods," Guppy added.
As one might expect, WEA responded to the news with a different analysis.
But the state teachers union, which opposes charters, pointed out that the 400-person telephone poll didn't define charters or give any facts about their success rate; instead, it said only that most states allow them.
"There's no way this classic push poll accurately reflects what Washington voters think," said Rich Wood, a spokesman for the union, called the Washington Education Association.
Though I don't believe that charters are necessarily the answer to the achievement gap, I think that we will see something this session or it will go to the public where millions will be spent to support passage by the reform community that will include people on both sides of the political aisle. Knowing that there are now 41 states that allow charters in various formats and that it is another of those "options" being pushed by the Obama administration leaves us in a different situation than we experienced in past attempts. For me, however, this is simply the background for what I see as a much bigger issue at the state level involving some major democratic fundraisers growing disillusionment with the party's stance on education reform and a belief that WEA wields too much influence in Olympia. More on this in my next post.