On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee ended speculation on whether he might veto a bill passed by the Legislature to restore the state’s public charter school system to legal status.
Instead of taking an action that would have closed schools for thousands of students for the second time in a few months, Inslee chose not to sign the bill, which under state law allows its enactment.
Washington state voters narrowly approved permitting a publicly funded charter school system in 2012, but legal challenges resulted in the state Supreme Court ruling the law unconstitutional the Friday before Labor Day of last year, only days before most enrolled students were to begin classes.
Inslee’s only Republican challenger in this year’s election, Bill Bryant, has been a vocal supporter of charter schools and made a statement on Facebook regarding the governor’s non-signing of a major piece of education legislation:
In a letter sent to Secretary of State Kim Wyman, Inslee laid out his reservations regarding the bill and his reasons for stepping aside to let it become law.
“I am not interested in closing schools in a manner that disrupts the education of hundreds of students and their affected families,” Inslee wrote.
He went on to reiterate his belief that the new law will not resolve his concerns that charter schools lack accountability to the public.
“… I remain deeply concerned about the public accountability and oversight provisions of this bill. At its foundation, our public school system relies upon locally elected boards to oversee expenditures of taxpayer money,” the governor wrote.
Some might say that the fact that the voluntary nature of enrollment in charter schools provides an incentive to provide quality instruction that generates a quicker and more powerful response to the needs of students. Others might be skeptical of Inslee’s implication that traditional public schools are publicly accountable either.
The 106-year-old state Supreme Court decision that formed the crux of the decision ruling charters unconstitutional last year used language to establish a standard for accountability that most traditional public schools would have a hard time meeting. From School District No. 20 v. Bryan:
“The complete control of the schools is a most important feature, for it carries with it the right of the voters, through their chosen agents, to select qualified teachers, with powers to discharge them if they are incompetent.”
In the present day, contracts negotiated between elected school officials and teacher’s unions have severed the chain of accountability to voters the Bryan decision sought to protect. In fact, charter schools are more apt to operate in the spirit of Bryan in this regard.
If Gov. Inslee is truly interested in preserving public accountability — and there’s no reason to suspect that he is not — then voters should ask him to move forward from his non-signing of this bill and propose major reforms to ensure real accountability in all of our schools.
Click to read Inslee’s letter to Secretary of State Kim Wyman.
Editor's note: After first publication, this article was updated to include a statement made by Bill Bryant on the governor's action.