Opinion: WEA union blocks bill to provide equitable funding for charter school families

On Monday (Feb. 5), the Senate Ways and Means Committee blocked passage of SB 5809.
On Monday (Feb. 5), the Senate Ways and Means Committee blocked passage of SB 5809.

SB 5809 would have reduced Washington state’s policy of funding discrimination against charter school families

Liv Finne
Washington Policy Center

On Monday (Feb. 5), the Senate Ways and Means Committee blocked passage of SB 5809.  The bill is likely dead for the year.  SB 5809 would have reduced Washington state’s policy of funding discrimination against charter school families.  Under the discrimination policy students at public charter schools are each denied thousands of dollars in funding each year.

Liv Finne, Washington Policy Center
Liv Finne, Washington Policy Center

This bill would have reduced the funding inequity by providing up to $1,550 per student in additional funding.

Here are the details.  Since their creation by voters in 2012, Washington lawmakers have maintained a policy of underfunding the state’s 18 public charter schools.  The 4,800 students who attend these successful schools get $3,000 less than students attending traditional public schools. Charter schools primarily serve low-income, Black and Hispanic students in urban communities.  Their schools are also denied capital funding.  Charter schools are the only public schools that are required to pay rent to use their buildings.

SB 5809 has seven Democratic co-sponsors in the Senate, and its companion in the House, HB 1897, has 18 Democratic co-sponsors.  Republicans already support funding equity, so the bipartisan support means the bills would have passed if allowed to come to the floor for a roll-call vote.

Earlier, the House committee heard testimony from Jaxon Rowland, a black student at Why Not You Academy, a public charter school supported by former Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson and his wife Clara.  Jaxon told lawmakers, “Going to a charter school makes me feel like I have a chance in this world.” He said his school needs funding for career and technical training to help students like him off to a great start in life.

The WEA union, however, hates charter schools and is determined to maintain its power monopoly in schools by underfunding popular alternatives.  Despite moving testimony at public hearings from black and Hispanic parents, the union made it clear to committee members it wanted the bill blocked.  And that’s exactly what happened.

Meanwhile, research continues to show why charter schools are so popular and effective in helping children learn.  The February 3rd, 2024 cover of The Economist magazine announces two articles describing “Why charter schools work.” These articles present new findings from Stanford University’s CREDO group that:

“Charters in cities advanced their pupils by almost a whole month each year in reading and maths compared with the control group.

“Black and Hispanic students did better on those measures ‘by large margins’ compared with their peers in traditional public schools.

“These are the very children the Democratic party says it especially wants to help.”   

Bills blocked in the committee can still be brought up later by House and Senate leaders.  The powerful union has used its influence over the Senate Ways and Means Committee to deny students like Jaxon Rowland the equal funding he needs for his education.  Let’s hope caring lawmakers act to reverse this injustice, and end once and forever Washington’s funding inequity against these deserving families.

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


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