Op-Ed: The Charter School issue is a distraction

Sunday, June 5, 2016

By Rep. Ruth Kagi, D-32

A number of people have asked me why I voted for Charter Schools last session. I would like to provide a response.

The Charter School vote was one of the hardest I have ever taken. I voted against Charters in the legislature a decade ago, when the bill passed and was repealed by the voters, and I voted against the initiative to create Charters. However, the initiative passed, very narrowly, but it became the law. Many bills pass the legislature narrowly – the margin doesn’t matter. They become law.

Nine Charters were created as a result of the initiative passing. I went to visit one of those schools, Summit, in January before returning to Olympia. I met many students who had struggled in their schools and were two or three years behind. It was a remarkably diverse population of students with a high percentage on free and reduced lunch. The students I met were excited about their new school and were engaged in their education. I could not see the benefit of closing their school.

My primary focus in the legislature during my entire tenure has been creating opportunities for children and youth who face the greatest barriers to success. That is why I have fought for high quality early learning opportunities for low income children. Research shows that is absolutely the best investment we can make in their future success. A drop-out reengagement bill I passed six years ago has allowed over 4,000 drop-outs to get their high school diploma. I have sponsored bills to improve education for foster children, mental health services for children, and bills to provide stronger support for children struggling to stay in school.

I do not see the Charter School bill as a threat to public education, or I wouldn’t have supported it. The bill we passed limits the number of Charter Schools to 40. We have over 2200 public schools in this state. The funding in this budget for Charters is $10 million. The funding for K-12 is over $18 billion. Charter Schools are not a threat to our public education system. Our failure to fully fund our public schools is the threat; it should be the main focus of this campaign and of the Democratic party this year.

I voted for over a billion dollars in taxes three years ago when the House passed Representative Reuven Carlyle’s bill closing tax loopholes and extending the B&O surcharge. The funding was dedicated to public education. We would likely not currently be in contempt of court if that bill had passed the Senate. We must now raise over $3 billion next year to meet our constitutional obligation. The Charter School issue is a distraction from this imperative.

Rep. Kagi represents the 32nd legislative district in Washington state House of Representatives. The 32nd Legislative District includes the city of Shoreline, part of northwest Seattle, the town of Woodway and nearby unincorporated areas of Snohomish County, south Edmonds, the city of Lynnwood, and part of Mountlake Terrace.


threeheadedtoad June 6, 2016 at 10:58 AM  

The biggest issue I have with charter schools is that it is a cop-out. If there are issues with the student's learning or behaviour, or how they are taught, then fix it in the school they go to. If the parents are not happy with their child's progress or education, then get involved. If none of those approaches are possible, then try home schooling or alternative/magnet schools. The people that I know that send their kids to charter schools tell me that its a free way for their child to get a private school education. More parents and community members need to invest in their public schools. Get involved, join the PTA or other school orgs.I get it, I really do. Some kids cant do the traditional education route. But there are other alternatives. DOnt take money away from public schools, or give some schools more leeway in the way they teach or do things. Try to fix the issues you see, instead of going around them. Things will only get worse until more parents decide to take a proactive approach to their kids education.

Anonymous,  June 6, 2016 at 11:40 AM  

Happy to hear someone is paying attention to the usefulness of Charter Schools. As long as we don't go down the "ALEC" path (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Legislative_Exchange_Council) we will be okay. I have always been a supporter of Labor, but the stanglehold the WEA has on this state has about done me in - if they would let administrators fire incompetent and dangerous teachers they would win back some public trust.

Anonymous,  June 6, 2016 at 7:30 PM  

If Rep Kagi doesn't see privatized charter schools as a threat to PUBLIC education, then she hasn't been paying attention. Charter schools have been around for a couple of decades now in other states, and they have proven to be less than effective in most instances. Instead they create a separate and unequal privatized system of education. In some states, like California, charters siphon away millions of dollars from school districts. While the charters can pick and choose to educate the cream of the crop, public school districts are left with higher need students. In other states, charters are white flight schools - segregating the population even more. Charters schools open and close, leaving kids and families to pick up the pieces and start over someplace else - and this is a market-based feature, not a bug. In ALL states, fraud has been rampant in charters, as the lack of public oversight and transparency allows for all kinds of financial misdeeds to remain unnoticed - google the Atlanta Latin Academy for just the latest mess. Charter schools also have bloated administrative salaries that are out of proportion with the public sector, and they are never quite honest about where all that money goes. In fact, billions of dollars have gone missing in the charter school sector.
Having lived in a state before this that had charter schools, I watched all the games, the huge amounts of money spent by large charter school corporations to buy legislative seats and school board seats, the whisper campaigns that started maligning the public schools to increase enrollment at the charter schools, the purging of the charter school students who weren't going to get the best test scores, the celebrities opening charter schools, etc. - all because charter schools introduce a market-based profit factor into education. Hedge funds make BIG money off charter schools. Rep Kagi has now reduced Washington students to a "profitable venture" for these hedge funders. Trust me, it's not about education no matter what the charters say. It's all about profit - and the 22 charter school lobbyists employed by the charter school association to convince the WA State legislature to fund charters is just the tip of the iceberg.
Rep. Kagi also states that charter schools only got $10 million this year, neglecting to mention that they had full private funding ALREADY, and also neglecting to mention how much they will get in the future. The money for charter schools comes from a budget that also funds scholarships for low income college students and funds low income preschoolers. Who gets priority? Will it be the privileged charter school students at Summit, whom Rep Pollet discovered came from many private schools and many zip codes north of the ship canal bridge despite their charter that claims they would serve the low income students of SE Seattle? Or will it be the low income students with needs who are served by the public system.
Charter schools ARE a distraction from the real work of educating ALL students. They make false promises, use taxpayer dollars for advertising and rewards, and lack the public oversight that organizations receiving public money should have. A legislator who votes for such a distraction cannot be trusted. Rep. Kagi has lost my support and my vote.

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