To say that it has been a tumultuous year for Washington State’s public charter schools – and for their students and families – would be an understatement. This past September, just as the school year was getting underway, the Washington State Supreme Court threw the bright educational futures of these charter students and the lives of their families into total chaos by invalidating the state’s voter-approved public charter school law.
But now, after many ups and downs over the past seven months, I am proud to say that Washington’s students have finally won – and won big. Thanks to an incredible effort by students, families, educators, advocates, and legislators alike, Senate Bill 6194 will become law, ensuring that Washington’s public charters will remain open, and also paving the way for the continued growth of these innovative schools.
For the more than 1,100 students enrolled in one of Washington’s eight public charters, the passage of this landmark legislation puts their educational futures back on solid ground and signals a much-needed end to months of uncertainty and confusion for them and their families. But the implications of this moment stretch well beyond eight schools – as this law is truly a victory for every student and every family in Washington.
By expanding the range of available high-quality public educational options, families are now empowered with more choices and are free to make the educational decisions that best suit their student’s unique needs. Every child deserves a world-class public education that enables them to reach their fullest potential, and this law helps bring Washington State one step closer to making that promise a reality.
To be clear, this new law doesn’t just reinstate the public charter sector – it effectively creates one of strongest and most robust charter school laws that our country has ever seen.
Beyond remedying the Supreme Court’s objections to the technicalities of how charters are financed, SB 6194 goes further by also creating strong accountability standards for these schools. These standards preserve the core idea behind charter schools, which receive enhanced autonomy and flexibility to innovate in exchange for heightened accountability to bring about excellent outcomes for children. Our children and their success should be at the center of everything we do, and this law helps ensure that we are placing students in classrooms where they are learning, growing, and actually receiving the education they deserve.
Ultimately, the lasting legacy and greatest achievement of SB 6194 is that it opens wide, once and for all, the doors of educational opportunity to every student in the state – and especially to those students from low-income communities and communities of color, which have been overlooked and underserved for generations. Access to a high-quality public education is one of the greatest civil rights issues of our time, and this law has the potential to address many of the systemic inequities that have long plagued our education system and our society writ large.
Not only are Washington’s public charters serving predominantly minority and low-income students, but early results also indicate that these schools are helping to narrow the stubborn opportunity and achievement gaps that hold too many children back from realizing their fullest potential. A quality education has the power to be transformative in the life of a child, and it’s clear that these schools are already making an enormous difference for those who need them the most.
I am heartened to see that the core Democratic values of equity and opportunity are alive and well in Washington State, and I am thankful for the incredible champions who got us to this point. From the bold bipartisan leadership of our state legislators to the dedicated education advocates and supporters on the ground – it truly took a village to achieve such meaningful change for our kids.
It is unfortunate and, frankly, disappointing that rather than lead this progressive charge alongside his courageous Democratic colleagues in the legislature, Governor Inslee chose to let the bill become law without his signature. Regardless, SB 6194 will still become law, and DFER joins families and education champions across the state and country in celebrating this monumental victory for students.
At the end of the day, all of the credit belongs to the local students, families, and community members who understood what was at stake – and stood up on behalf of Washington’s students. Their tireless work over the past few months has been both humbling and inspiring, and we all must take their lead and continue fighting for the high-quality education that every child deserves, no matter their background or their zip code.
Shavar Jeffries is the National President of Democrats for Education Reform