A bill to keep charter schools open in Washington passed off the Senate floor Wednesday over objections from several lawmakers who say the state should be focusing on its McCleary obligation to fully fund public schools.
The Washington Supreme Court ruled last year that charter schools do not qualify for public money from the general fund because they are not “common schools” governed by an elected school board.
“This bill agrees with that ruling,” said Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, the prime sponsor of Senate Bill 6194.
The bill changes the definition and funding source of charter schools to comply with the court. Charter schools would no longer be defined as “common,” and they would be paid for by the Lottery-funded Washington Opportunity Pathways Account.
“We have to make sure that those kids in charter schools have the opportunity to get the education that everybody does,” Litzow said. “This is one step there.”
Sen. Mark Mullet, D-Issaquah, also urged passage of the bill, saying it will give certainty to charter school students who want to stay in their schools. “These are real students with real families,” he said.
Opponents of the bill say the state should not be prioritizing charter schools at a time it is facing an education funding crisis in its public schools.
“We can’t substitute a solution for 1,200 kids in charter schools when we haven’t had a real discussion about how we address the one million kids around the state,” said Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D- Seattle.
Democratic Sen. Bob Hasegawa of Seattle said the bill “sends the wrong message” on the first day of floor action in the Senate. He said charter schools are draining public money to provide a “private benefit to a select few.”
The bill passed with a vote of 27-20 and now heads to the House for consideration.