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Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate provides the Northwest Progressive Institute's uplifting perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Monday, February 5th, 2024

2024 push to divert more funding to charter schools in Washington fizzles at fiscal cutoff

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.

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