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Gov. Inslee Won't Call Special Session to Discuss Charter Schools' Fate

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Cross-posted from the State EdWatch blog

By Andrew Ujifusa

Washington state Gov. Jay Inslee has declined to call a special session to create a legal pathway for charter schools to remain open this year.

In a letter sent on Friday, Inslee, a Democrat, said he would focus on improving traditional public schools instead of charters, which he said "lack public oversight and accountability."

That sentiment matches a decision issued Sept. 4 by the state supreme court, which declared that the state's 2012 voter-approved law permitting charters was unconstitutional. In a 6-3 decision, the majority of the justices found that charters don't fit the definition of "common schools" in the state and therefore aren't eligible for the money they receive from the state's general fund budget.

State Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a Democrat, will ask the court to reconsider its ruling, but Inslee justified his decision not to call a special session in part by noting that private donors have agreed to fund the charters for the 2015-16 school year if the court's decision stands.

After the court's ruling in League of Women Voters v. Washington, several pro-charter groups called on Inslee to convene a special session to preserve state funding for charters in some fashion. But Inslee was unmoved.

"I opposed the initiative that created charter schools because I did not believe that public money belongs in schools that lack public oversight and accountability," Inslee wrote. "That remains my position. We must have accountability for all taxpayer money spent on education, particularly at a time when the Court has ruled that we have consistently failed to adequately fund public schools."

That last sentence is a reference to a separate court ruling last month, in which the justices fined the state $100,000 a day for inadequate school funding. That decision has roots in 2012, when the court ruled in McCleary v. Washington that the state was in violation of its constitution for not spending enough on K-12, and gave lawmakers until 2018 to fix it. In August, the court deemed subsequent state increases for K-12 insufficient and levied the fine.

In the same letter announcing no special session for charters, Inslee announced the formation of a work group of eight lawmakers, who will partner with his office to try to clear up the issues the court identified when it levied the daily fine. He also warned lawmakers not to let discussions about school funding and McCleary turn into debates about charters.

However, the charter school ruling could upend any discussions about the K-12 budget, irrespective of what Inslee wants, state Rep. Chad Magendanz, a Republican and ranking member of the House education committee who sits on the McCleary work group, told me in an interview.

"The political fight to restore charters could stop everything, not just McCleary. Anything could be held hostage next session to try to restore charter schools," Magendanz said, adding that he himself didn't support such a strategy despite being a charter-school supporter.


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