Exploring the Murky Future of Charter Schools in Washington

By Matt Halvorson

The Seattle Times published an in-depth article this week that digs into the current affairs of the charter school movement in Washington. The article is most noteworthy for the misinformation presented by Bill Keim, executive director of the Washington Association of School Administrators, and Rich Wood, spokesman for the Washington Education Association, which the article fails to refute.

This, for example:

The future of Washington’s charters is far from certain, with strong opposition from many Democrats in the House, and groups including the state administrators association and the state teachers union.
Opponents say lawmakers should focus first on fully funding regular public schools, and the executive director of the Washington Association of School Administrators has questioned the motives of those pumping money into the save-charters campaign.
“Even if these huge donations are purely motivated by a desire to better serve our students, is it OK for a few wealthy individuals to effectively buy democracy in our state to promote their ideas?” Bill Keim wrote.

The answer: yes, sadly. It happens constantly. And it's terrible. But Bill Keim's indignation is reserved for the rare instance when that money doesn't specifically work in his favor. "Wealthy individuals" typically purchases democracy at the expense of people of color, at the expense of low- and moderate-income families, at the expense of kids with special needs. And if Keim believes these donations are "purely motivated by a desire to better serve our students," then why not engage charter school supporters and their donors as opposed to fighting them tooth and nail?

This isn't so much a factual discrepancy as a display of white privilege. But then there's this, which gets much stranger and more patently false:

Opponents, however, continue to urge lawmakers to oppose legislation that would keep charters alive.
“Diverting scarce funding to unaccountable, privately-run charter schools isn’t a solution,” state teachers union spokesman Rich Wood said.
And Keim, of the school-administrators association, asked whether the decision to open charters this fall, despite the pending court challenge, was a calculated move “to make sure there were student faces at the center of this debate” — an argument supporters dismiss.

Mr. Wood, I agree that "diverting funding" (not an accurate way to describe what's happening) to "unaccountable, privately-run" schools (completely false, in that Fox News kind of way where nobody is fact-checking you and you get to say whatever you want -- charter schools in Washington State are by definition public schools, and the original charter school legislation established clear accountability) is no solution.

But continuing to fund a district that is statistically proven to be failing large swaths of student populations is not the answer either. The public education provided to students of color in the state of Washington is utterly unacceptable, and the data bears that out. One might suggest, Mr. Wood, that the WEA weed its own garden before commenting on the neighbor's.

And Mr. Keim, supporters dismiss your idea because that claim is literally the opposite of the truth. The WEA, operating in some real cloak-and-dagger, smoke-filled-room kind of fashion, spent time and "scarce funding" trying to carry out this unconstitutionality gambit just days before the start of the school year (look into it further, please; the WEA initiated this process of attempting to oust the voter-approved charter school system. Seriously. Our state's teacher's union is so threatened by the idea of giving students otherwise bound to traditional public schools -- those for whom private school tuition is not an option, for example, or whose special needs exclude them -- an alternative that they attempted to erase charters from existence). But they missed the mark, because charter schools had already started their school year just days before the court challenge was pending.

In a sense, Mr. Keim, you could say that it was the WEA's calculated move that accidentally made "sure there were student faces at the center of this debate.”