A pair of bills that sought to divert more public funds to unaccountable, privately-run charter schools in Washington appear to have fizzled out after neither received a “do pass” recommendation from the fiscal committees in their respective chambers prior to today’s cutoff for legislation with a fiscal impact.
Senate Bill 5807, prime sponsored by Senator Mark Mullet (D‑5th District: East King County) and House Bill 1897, prime sponsored by State Representative Larry Springer (D‑45th District: Redmond, Kirkland, Sammamish, Duvall) sought to make charters eligible to apply for state grants on the same basis as a school district. The legislation also would have required the Superintendent of Public Instruction to distribute to each charter school a per-pupil enrichment grant in the amount of the state local effort assistance threshold as defined in state law.
Both bills received hearings late last week. SB 5807 was heard Friday in the Senate Ways & Means Committee, while HB 1897 received a hearing in House Appropriations. SB 5807 had previously been heard in the Senate Education & Early Learning Committee, and it reached Ways & Means with the support of Mullet, Democratic State Senator Lisa Wellman, Democratic State Senator Claire Wilson, and the committee’s three Republican members.
Democratic State Senators T’wina Nobles, Sam Hunt, and Jamie Pedersen signed the minority report recommending that the bill not be passed.
Representatives from the Washington Education Association and Washington’s Paramount Duty testified in opposition along with legislative candidate Kristiana de Leon, a Black Diamond city councilmember. Representatives from the right wing Washington Policy Center (which has an education privatization agenda) testified in favor along with students from several charter schools.
A fiscal note prepared by the Office of Financial Management estimated that the legislation’s requirement to implement local effort assistance for charters would require $9,611,790 in the 2023–2025 biennium, $20,522,589 in the 2025–2027 biennium, and $21,559,865 in the 2027–2029 biennium.
Mullet and Springer both represent portions of East King County in the Legislature, and have previously advocated for charters to get more tax dollars.
However, Mullet, who is running for governor rather than seeking reelection to the Senate, has curiously been portraying himself as a champion of public schools.
For instance, he opened a December 13th campaign email with these words: “I believe that public school teachers, employees, and students deserve our full support, and I’m proud not only to be the husband of a public elementary school teacher, but to be the father of six public school students.”
“The contrast between Bob Ferguson’s views and mine are stark,” Mullet added. “Bob will proudly share that he is the son of a public school teacher – but what he won’t say is that he himself attended private school, as do his children.”
“I believe our next Governor should walk the walk when it comes to public education,” Mullet’s email went on to say. It then asked: “Do you agree that our public school system should be good enough for the Governor’s family?”
Legislators were reminded during the con testimony that school districts across Washington are grappling with big funding shortfalls right now, with administrators considering or implementing plans to lay off staff and close schools.
Sadly, rather than working to help those districts — something our public opinion research shows voters want lawmakers to focus on — Mullet has been expending energy trying to divert more dollars to privately-run charter schools.
That left many progressive activists shaking their heads.
“In a tight budget year, I cannot imagine why this giveaway to private, essentially for-profit enterprises that educate selectively can possibly outrank housing, mental health and treatment for substance use disorder as priorities for our youth,” wrote longtime activist Sarajane Siegfriedt, a former co-chair of the King County Democratic Central Committee’s Legislative Action Committee, who penned a letter to Democratic lawmakers urging them to drop the bill.
House Appropriations leadership obliged the request and Springer’s HB 1897 was not chosen as a candidate for executive session before cutoff.
Mullet happens to be one of the Senate Ways & Means Committee’s vice chairs, with responsibility for the capital budget. He thus was in an excellent position to try to secure a “do pass” recommendation for the Senate version before the cutoff. And he did manage to get SB 5807 scheduled for executive session today.
However, Ways & Means Chair June Robinson did not bring the bill up. And as a consequence, its status was updated to read “Executive session scheduled, but no action was taken in the Senate Committee on Ways & Means at 10:00 AM.”
It is possible for bills that don’t survive cutoff to be resurrected, but it seems unlikely that is going happen to this effort, given the strident opposition the idea faces from many Democratic lawmakers on both sides of the rotunda and from champions of public education across Washington State.