Gov. Inslee was hanging out with his pals from the Washington Education Association a recent Saturday morning when the subject of charter schools came up.
Inslee, who had come confident of collecting their endorsement, knew these leaders of the statewide public school teachers’ union see charter schools as anathema to, and abominations of, public education.
It’s a view Inslee pretty much shares. However, there’s a bill sitting on his desk that would give charter schools permanence in Washington — and every indication is that Inslee’s going to sign it.
He didn’t tell his WEA friends what he’s going to do, and they were polite enough not to ask, but he didn’t leave much room for doubt as he said he is “very closely” reviewing Senate Bill 6194.
To recap, voters in 2012 approved charter schools by initiative. The first batch were just opening in Tacoma, Seattle and Spokane last fall when the state Supreme Court ruled the measure unconstitutional, saying charter schools could not receive funding from the same account reserved for regular public schools, and they required public oversight.
Lawmakers sent Inslee a bill they insist repairs all the defects. Inslee must sign it or veto it by April 2 or it will automatically become law without his signature.
Last Saturday, the governor outlined the factors he’s weighing. Not all are tied to the content of the bill.
There needs to be a budget deal, he said. The implication is Inslee would veto the charter school bill — as he did 27 others March 10 — if leaders of the Democratic-controlled House and Republican-run Senate didn’t get a deal done. Early Wednesday there were strong rumblings of a pending agreement.
He said he doesn’t want to see schools close. That’s a likely byproduct of not signing the bill.
The bill must have strong accountability measures, he said. Its requirement for regular audits and release of financial information by school board directors are two areas that exceed what the initiative mandated.
And Inslee said the legislation needs to be able to withstand another constitutional challenge — which the WEA will seriously consider pursuing if it’s signed.
A factor Inslee didn’t cite but must certainly be pondering is the potential political fallout.
Democrats are in danger of losing control of the state House of Representatives this year and an Inslee veto might seal the deal. Democrats outnumber Republicans 50-48 which means the loss of two seats would put them in the minority.
Backers of charter schools waged a non-stop campaign to get the legislation passed. More than 200 parents and students have sent letters to the governor urging him to sign it, and hundreds more left voicemails with the same appeal.
They’re committed to carry the fight into November to try to repopulate the House with charter school enthusiasts. Money won’t be a concern. Proponents spent $11.5 million to pass Initiative 1240. It won’t cost anywhere near that much to try to sway the outcomes of a few House races.
That’s only one side of the political equation.
Inslee has received an estimated 200 letters from people urging him to veto the bill.
He did get the WEA’s endorsement and knows exactly where it stands. But this may be a time when good friends agree to disagree on the path the governor should take.
Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623; firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @dospueblos.