House Education Committee Hears Charter School Bill

More than 75 public charter school parents, students, community leaders and advocates traveled from across the state to Olympia today to support Senate Bill 6194, a bipartisan bill that would save public charter schools in Washington State and reflect the will of the voters. The House Education Committee heard the proposed legislation, which the Senate chamber approved with bipartisan support two weeks ago.

The House Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D – Seattle), heard testimony Friday from public charter school parents, community leaders and students, whose accounts illustrated how Washington’s nonprofit-run public charter schools are meeting the needs of historically underserved students and showcased the great demand for high-quality public charter school options for their communities, particularly communities of color impacted by poverty in Washington. 

Sixth grade student Heskiyas Wondaferew urged legislators to keep schools open for him, for his fellow classmates and for students younger than him: “I am standing here in front of you asking humbly to not take such a great education away. Our future lies in your hands. This education promises me and the rest of charter school students an excellent future full of success. I know by the time I graduate from Excel, I will become a solid young man…so please, why take this away from us? Shouldn’t that be unconstitutional?” 

Wondaferew attends Excel Middle School at Excel Public Charter School in Kent, where sixth-graders entered, on average, two grade levels behind in reading, while seventh-graders entered, on average, three grade levels behind in reading. Interim assessment data shows that Excel students are now on track to make one and a half years of growth in reading in a single school year, while simultaneously learning to code and playing an instrument in the school’s orchestra.

In addition to current parents and students from public charter schools, the House Committee on Education heard testimony from advocates and parents from communities yet to open a public charter school under the voter approved law, who testified about the importance of reinstating the charter law to reflect the what the voters wanted: access to innovative schools for every community. 

“The Yakima valley, the Tri-Cities area, and other regions of our state voted in favor of public charter schools in 2012 because our kids need additional public school options,” said Ed Pacheco, father of a seven-year-old girl and Yakima, WA, resident.  Latino voters – along with people of color – voted for the public charter initiative in high numbers because we also want access to high quality schools.”   

The bill is now in the hands of the members of the House Education Committee, which will decide whether to move the bill forward. The final day of the short legislative session is March 11, leaving members just 19 days to pass this critical legislation to keep local, nonprofit-run public school doors open and many of Washington’s historically underserved students on a path to success.