Opinion: Systemic discrimination in the public schools; legislature cuts funding for public charter schools’

Liv Finne, director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center, comments on the decision of majority lawmakers to cut the charter school make-up funding in the final state budget

This opinion piece was produced and first published by the Washington Policy Center. It is published here with the permission of and full attribution to the Washington Policy Center. 

Liv Finne
Liv Finne

On Saturday, state lawmakers announced the final version of the new 2021-23 state budget. Democrats control a majority in the legislature and make all the key funding decisions.

Charter school families and supporters were upset when they heard the details.  Majority lawmakers cut education funding for charter school families, while increasing spending on other schools.

Charter school students do not get the local levy funding their peers in traditional schools get, even though their families pay local taxes like everyone else.  The policy of discrimination leaves a shortfall of $2,500 to $3,000 per student per year.

One caring lawmaker, Rep. Skyler Rude (R-Walla Walla) proposed a House amendment to give charter school families an additional $1,550 in state funding to partially make up for the local funding cut. Rep. Drew Stokesbary (R-Auburn), Minority Leader on Appropriations, was instrumental in getting the amendment adopted into the House version of the budget. The total amendment was $10.6 million, small change in a new $59 billion state budget.

In drafting the final state budget, however, majority lawmakers cut the charter school make-up funding.  The cut targets the more than 60 percent of charter school students who happen to be low-income, black and Hispanic children.

Mr. Elijah Forde, whose 11-year-old daughter attends Rainier Valley Leadership Academy, a charter school in Seattle, explained to lawmakers why equitable education funding is so important to his family:

“Denying equitable funding for the education of students who are attending charter public schools only perpetuates systemic inequities that negatively impact indigenous students and students of color.  It’s time to stop seeing charter public schools as outside of the public system and fund all public schools equitably.  Our children deserve nothing less.”

In a statement, the Washington Charter School Association pointed to the injustice of unequal funding:

“… this funding gap harms students who have been historically marginalized in education and provides fewer resources for students who need funding most.  This [funding discrimination] is fundamentally unjust.”

Representative Sharon Tomiko-Santos (D-Seattle), Chair of the House Education Committee, has been a leader in the effort to hurt charter school children.  She works closely with the influential WEA union, which hates charter schools because they operate independently of school district power structure.  Charter school students, for example, gain the equivalent of 39 more days of learning compared to Seattle’s traditional schools.

The central goal of majority lawmakers is to preserve union power and school district monopoly.  For them the benefit of children comes third, at best, if they even consider it a priority at all.  The decision to harm charter school families, at a time when there is so much outcry about “injustice” and “inequity,” shows how far they are willing to go.

Politically, one would think voting for a cut in education spending would be unthinkable, let alone a cut that targets vulnerable families who want nothing more for their kids than the public education lawmakers have promised them.

If one were looking for a shocking example of systemic discrimination in the public schools, one that directly harms children of color, this is it.   

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

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