Governor Inslee Punks Out

Yes, I used that 1970’s phrase “punks out” because it’s a perfect fit for what just happened in Washington State when Governor Inslee decided to let a new charter schools bill just pass into existence without him taking a yea or nay stand.

First, I want to be clear that I have no particular preference over public, charter or private schools.  I just want them to work for the students who attend.  I am an active commissioner on the Washington State Charter Schools Commission.  That said, I do take issue with charter schools across the nation in general:

  • Many are poorly managed
  • They are mostly managed by people who have no connection to the community the students come from
  • Their pedagogy, for the most part, suggests they are designed to control black and brown kids
  • Most are not really innovative when they say they all are

I like how the Washington Charter Schools law put tight restrictions for accountability, although it doesn’t really mitigate the issues I have, but at least we know where the money is spent and how students are performing. Oh, I have a whole different set of issues with our public schools, but I digress….

governor insleeSo, back to Governor Inslee.  I like him.  I think for the most part he’s been a good Governor for our state. When he ran, he said on a number of occasions that he does not support charter schools.  When the State Supreme  Court knocked down the charter law and deemed charter schools unconstitutional in September 2015, charter school supporters sprang into action to get another bill (SB6194) on the table that would presumably make charter schools constitutional again (which still remains to be seen, but that’s not the issue I’m concerned about right now).

Governor Inslee had an option to veto the new bill, sign it into law or let it pass by taking no action. He chose to take no action. He punked out. Then he wrote this letter concerning the bill.  In this letter he says “However, I remain deeply concerned about the public accountability and oversight provisions of this bill.” So he’s deeply concerned about public accountability, but he’s going to let the schools stay open anyway. He punked out.

He punked out. What he needed to do is take a stand either way. I honestly don’t care which way, just pick a direction. If he believes in charter schools now, then he should have signed the bill.  If he still has an issue with charter schools in our state, then he should have vetoed the bill. This no-op business looks like a political move to ensure contributions in an election year.  I’m very disappointed.

So here we are. Nothing is really solved because there will be another lawsuit.  The schools will remain open under a cloud, which means it will be hard for them to recruit teachers and students.  We on the Washington Charter Schools Commission will ramp back up wondering if once again all the work we’re doing will come to a screeching halt when the next State Supreme Court ruling comes down.

Yes, by punking out Governor Inslee made the charter school status in Washington State about as clear as mud.


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  • Melissa Westbrook

    Thank you, Trish. I think there are many of us who agree with you, both on your points about charter schools and the Governor’s decision.

    The Governor ran on the Washington State Democratic platform which was against charter schools and was himself against them. To do this “I didn’t approve OR veto them” is weak, weak, weak.

    Like McCleary, the Governor and the legislature have now kicked the can down the road to later work but really to the courts. And I believe the Supreme Court is going to take a very dim view of the lack of work over McCleary and yet lots of time to discuss charter schools.

    I also believe the new charter law is unconstitutional (see Article Three, Section 22 about the role of the state superintendent over ALL public schools.) There’s nothing in the bill to support that role except, hey, Trish, you have two new members of the Charter Commission, one of them being the State Superintendent (or someone he/she sends.) That’s not elected oversight over ALL the charter schools.

    So next year, we are likely to find ourselves in the same place but with even MORE families affected. Very sad.

    Oh, and I forgot to send the Charter Commission my narrative about what was happening between the Supreme Court ruling in September 2015-December 2015 that came from public disclosure documents. I will send it to Mr. Halsey; I’m sure many of you will find it interesting reading.

  • Ken Mortland

    I agree with your analysis of the national charter school industry, though I wish you’d have been more detailed in your “poorly managed” comment. I also believe that WA State created the right balance, when limiting the market for charter schools, although that sets the bar exceptionally high. The right level of accountability and oversight will have to be enforced, in order to assure that the statutory market is maintained.

    Furthermore, I agree with you that the issue of constitutionality of this law has yet to be determined, as the recent ‘fix’ does nothing to address the issue of appointed & unelected charter school boards. I suspect the Supreme Court will still take issue with this aspect of the law.

    I predicted that Gov. Inslee would allow SB 6194 to become law without his signature. I, too, wish he’d have either vetoed the bill or signed it.

    I look forward to reading your thoughts on how the existing charter school law could be amended to make it more functional. I am also interested in learning how you perceive the future of WA’s charter schools, given our very restrictive application of the concept and the complexities of accountability and oversight. I hope the Legislature has seen fit to appropriate the necessary funds to allow the WA Charter Schools Commission to carry out that function of its statutory obligation.

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