I keep a photo of my first grade class in Portland. I’m one of six white faces alongside 14 African-American ones.
Defeatists today who talk about inner-city schools would have you believe we were doomed. How did we survive without a charter school option? Is it too late to drop out of high school and surrender three public college degrees I paid for personally?
Our schools are inadequately funded because Washington has the most regressive tax system in the nation.
Taxes stayed regressive through the defeat of high-earners’ income tax Initiative 1098. Now the same forces that killed I-1098 are behind Initiative 1240, which would allow 40 charter schools in Washington state. Voters are being asked to believe an initiative funded by huge checks from Amazon.com and Microsoft moguls, whose own kids go to private schools, will fix our education system.
Even Alice Walton of the Wal-Mart family, taking a break from funding Republican Super PACs, has given $600,000 (of her roughly $20.9 billion net worth) to I-1240. Has Walton, from her Texas ranch. come up with the solution to meeting Washington’s paramount constitutional duty? I-1240 is no grassroots movement: Thurston County, where I live, has accounted for just $40 of its funding.
In Washington, I once wrote, “proximity to the eastern shores of Lake Washington is the best predictor of academic success.” So long as education funding is property tax-based, this “savage inequality,” to quote education scholar Jonathan Kozol, will not change. The Washington Supreme Court acknowledged as much, writing in the McLeary ruling (the ruling that determined the state was not meeting its constitutional duty to fully fund education): “Districts with high property values are able to raise more levy dollars than districts with low property values, thus affecting the equity of a statewide system.”
I recall bringing a pencil and Pee Chee to school. As an Olympia parent, in contrast, I supplied a ream of copy paper for my 10-year-old’s public school, along with 24 sharpened pencils, 24 colored pencils, six glue sticks, and every supply imaginable short of the chair he sits in.
How will charter schools not dilute soup that is already mere broth?
In Oregon, districts are looking to save schools by converting public schools to charters, paid for with federal grants and exempt from many state and district regulations. That’s survival, not innovation. And a “hip-hop” charter in Portland burned through $500,000 in grants without ever opening because of financial and logistical problems.
Some of those pushing I-1240 argue it will serve children with disabilities – like my two Olympia nephews.
Not so fast: Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush cheerleads for charter schools, and yet the Miami Herald found most Florida charter schools failed to serve kids with disabilities – 86% had not a single student with a severe disability. (Editor's note: The Herald investigation also found that the number of poor children enrolled in charter schools was disproportionately low compared to traditional public schools).
The nonpartisan General Accounting Office found that only 8% of charter students nationally have disabilities, compared to 11% in traditional schools, and noted, “some charter schools may be discouraging students with disabilities from enrolling.”
No provision in I-1240 requires accountability for this. Academically, too, there is no empirical evidence charter schools outshine traditional schools. Just throwing some kids overboard will not stop schools from sinking.
I-1240 is a social science experiment funded by the 1% that the 99% will ultimately pay for, and a distraction from real school funding issues. Public school kids like my son and nephews deserve better.
Brendan Williams is a former state legislator from Thurston County’s 22nd Legislative District.