Spokane Journal of Business

Guest Commentary: Schools budget discriminates against state’s charter system

Barred from local funding..

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The Legislature approved and Gov. Jay Inslee signed a two-year budget to give most of Washington’s 2,400 K-12 public schools $27.2 billion, an all-time high. That’s a 20% increase over the last two years, up $4.4 billion. At $16,000 per student, public districts now get more money than some private schools charge

for tuition.

At the same time, the Legislature voted essentially to cut funding to low-income, minority and special needs students at our state’s public charter schools by denying them local
levy dollars.

Washington’s nine charter schools serve about 3,000 students. A new school is scheduled to open this fall in Seattle initially serving about 150 students, and four more charter schools are expected to open next year. These innovative public schools are popular with parents and focus on helping children in disadvantaged minority communities. Many have waiting lists.

A charter high school in Seattle’s Chinatown International District, is celebrating its first class of graduating seniors. Ninety-seven percent of this class of seniors are going to college. Another charter school in Tacoma is celebrating, too, with 98% of its graduating seniors accepted to college.

Under the new state budget, these schools continue to be barred from receiving a share of education funding approved by local voters. The cut means the targeted schools will receive an average of $2,500 less per student.

For the next two years, those yard signs we all see at election time that say vote “For Our Schools” really mean “Only for Some of Our Schools.”

In the Legislature, former state Sen. Guy Palumbo tried to reduce this inequity. He proposed an amendment to give charter schools $1,550 per student more in state money, leaving local levy money undisturbed. Just before midnight on the last day of the session, Palumbo’s fellow Democrats stripped charter schools from his amendment, and the budget was sent to the governor with the targeted school cuts in place.

As enacted, the Legislature’s two-year K-12 school budget is inequitable and unjust. It imposes a two-year cut on charter-school funding that doesn’t reflect the caring values of the people of our state. This year, the legislative majority abandoned the principle of fairness and equality in school funding by rewarding powerful special interests and giving less money to families in charter schools. The Palumbo amendment failed this time, but hopefully lawmakers will think about how their actions target and harm children and will consider reversing their opposition to local levy dollars for charter schools.

In Seattle, attitudes are changing. Mayor Jenny Durkan and the City Council this spring decided to allow charter-school students to apply for benefits on the same fair and equal basis as other public-school students from the Families, Education, Preschool and Promise Levy approved by voters last fall. This decision signals a positive shift in attitude toward public charter schools in Seattle, from hostility and fear to support and acceptance. 

Liv Finne is the director of the Center for Education at Washington Policy Center.

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