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House approves bill keeping charter schools open in Washington

by caprecord

The House approved a bill Wednesday that would keep charter schools open in Washington after the Washington Supreme Court declared the schools unconstitutional.

Senate Bill 6194 passed out of the House on a 58 to 39 vote following more than two hours of debate. It now heads back to the Senate for concurrence on amendments. The Senate passed a similar version in January.

Watch TVW of the House floor debate here

The state Supreme Court ruled last year that charter schools do not qualify for public money from the state’s general fund because they are not “common schools” governed by an elected school board.

The bill attempts to addresses the court’s concerns by redefining charter schools as public schools that are operated separately from the common schools system. Charter schools would be funded through the lottery-funded Washington Opportunity Pathways Account instead of the state’s general fund, and would not be able to use local levy dollars.

Rep. Maureen Walsh, R- Walla Walla, voted in favor of the bill. She said there needs to be an option for students who are looking for alternative education routes.

“What are we afraid of? That potentially a thousand kids out of a million kids are going to actually hit gradation? Are actually going to be intrigued with their education and want to go to school?” she said.

She continued, “It might not look like our regular public school or private schools, but it’s school and we are keeping those kids in school and I think that really our paramount duty.”

Rep. Sharon Santos, D-Seattle, voted no on the bill, saying the state has plenty of innovative public schools that offer students a variety of programs.

“I think it’s fair to say in our existing system of public schools we already have a great deal of choice and flexibility,” she said. 

She also raised concerns about using any public funds for charter schools, saying there needs to be “public oversight for the public dollar.”

About 1,100 students currently attend eight charter schools throughout the state. The charter schools are authorized by the Washington State Charter School Commission.

Lawmakers in the House debated more than 20 amendments before final passage of the bill, including an amendment that requires members of the commission and charter school boards to file personal financial statements with the Public Disclosure Commission.

Rep. Lillian Ortiz-Self, D- Mukilteo, sponsored the amendment, saying it’s about transparency for the public and parents.

“It’s for consistency, for accountably and most of all it’s for transparency,” she said. “Not just for us because we help supervise those public dollars but more importantly, transparency for parents and community and our students.”

Rep. Chad Magendanz, R-Issaquah, voted against the amendment. He said it would be inappropriate for charter school board members to file financial statements like an elected official.

“Members of these boards are not elected, they have unique circumstances,” he said.

The amendment passed on a 91-6 vote.

Members also adopted an amendment requiring charter school boards to conduct independent performance audits after the first school year of full operation. Another amendment requires charter school boards to post warnings online of any ongoing litigation challenging the constitutionality of charter schools.

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