The 36th Legislative District Democrats voted overwhelmingly in favor of opposing Initiative 1240 in a vote held this month. Unfortunately Representative Reuven Carlyle is not on the same page as his constituents.

Maybe when he realizes that even his children’s schools could be converted into charter schools without his knowledge he might change his mind.

Maybe when he understands what schools like KIPP are all about, he might change his mind. See Bay Area KIPP schools lose 60% of their students, study confirms and Study Finds High Dropout Rates for Black Males in KIPP Schools,  regarding IEP students, “At KIPP, I would wake up sick, every single day”,  and Myths and realities about KIPP.

Maybe when he realizes that those “non-profit” charter schools are run by for-profit Educational Management Organizations (EMO’s), he might change his mind. Also see: Charter School Industry Running Amok in Florida with Taxpayer Dollars and the League of Women Voters’ policy paper Subcontracting Public Education for additional information on EMO’s.

Maybe, when he understands that as much as he might like to “oversee” what’s  going on at charter schools, his voice would count for as much as anyone else’s in the public, that is, not much, he might change his mind.

Just how much say do you think Carlyle would have with a Charter School Commission of privatization devotees politically appointed who answer to no one but the Governor? Which also begs the question, just how much time does a governor have to oversee the details of any board?

To follow is a letter that was sent to Representative Reuven Carlyle by several of his constituents. Hopefully he will take heed.

October 19, 2012

Dear Reuven,

As citizens of the 36th District, we are asking you to stand with the overwhelming majority of your constituents and endorse a no vote on Initiative 1240.

Regardless of your personal beliefs about education, this is NOT a debate about the concept of charter schools. This is about a specific ballot measure: Initiative 1240.

Initiative 1240 is very risky and dangerous. Its passage would be equivalent to gambling with our schools and our students.

We feel that this is too vital an issue at a very critical time for public education. Being “uncommitted” in these circumstances is the same as qualified or tacit support of the other side.

As our state representative, we need your leadership, your courage and your unequivocal support. We’re counting on you to stand with us, your constituents, on their behalf.

Initiative 1240 would pull dollars out of our existing schools and hand them over to competing interests to open charter schools, with little or no accountability.

It would also allow for 51% of the current parents at a school, or 51% of the current teachers at a school, to secretly circulate a petition to “trigger” a takeover of that school. At no point do they have to reveal what they’re doing and there is nothing to prevent a private, for-profit company from initiating this action, in an attempt to take control of any school of their choosing.

And this “trigger” would apply to every single school in our state—regardless of its standing or the academic record of its students. Were you aware of this? And if so, why would you endorse it?

In other states, competing interests have opened charters that have weakened and defunded existing public schools, often causing serious rifts within school communities that hurt students, parents and teachers. Is this what you want for Washington?

The United States has now had charters for over 20 years—and there are more than 5,000 standing today. If charters provided some clear measure of education superiority, in any category, that trend would have been obvious by now. However, after two decades of charter experiments, despite the hyperbole of their backers, they have demonstrated exactly the opposite.

Contrary to the image that has often appeared in the media, based primarily on biased anecdotes, charters are, at best, a risky proposition with a mostly negative record. According to the widely respected CREDO Study—conducted by researchers favorably inclined towards charters—from Stanford University, charters are more likely to provide worse educational outcomes for the students they serve. Subsequent studies continue to affirm CREDO’s findings.

Here are just five of the many reasons why Initiative 1240 would be an absolute disaster for our state’s education system:

1) Initiative 1240 will drain money from our existing schools:  Our schools are already struggling. We don’t even have enough money to meet the current needs of our schools. Bringing 40 charters into our state, to compete for these same, already inadequate funds, is absolutely irresponsible. It would only make school finances that much worse.

Do you really believe that we can operate all existing schools AND open up 40 news ones, using the same pot of money, with no fiscal impact or decline?

2) Initiative 1240 establishes a new, duplicate bureaucracy and is likely unconstitutional:  If Initiative 1240 passes we’ll be paying more to receive less. It will set up two separate educational systems, adding a new state bureaucracy and new costs for all taxpayers—and there are serious doubts about its constitutionality.

We believe that it would be better to retain just one, constitutionally sanctioned, state education system, and work within it to improve all of our schools.

3) Initiative 1240 lacks accountability to parents and taxpayers: Initiative 1240 fails to provide citizen and parent involvement and oversight. This is the main reason the Washington State PTA is against it, even though they previously gave certain types of charters a qualified, limited endorsement.

4) Initiative 1240 lacks charter authorizer oversight: Initiative 1240 technically restricts charter authorizers to the charter commission or a school board. However, authorizers are also free to contract out their duties to anyone. Such laws have led to widespread corruption and waste in other states and would enhance the potential for unethical behavior and very clear conflicts of interest.

And when a sanctioned authorizer approves a conversion of an existing public school into a charter, it will inevitably do great harm to that public school and its entire district.

In such a case, the new charter will receive all of the revenue previously received by the public school. But it will pay absolutely no rent to the district for the school building it now occupies. Yet, the district will still be 100% responsible for all building maintenance and major capital improvements.

5) Initiative 1240 would impose the most extreme “Trigger” in history: Arguably the worst part of Initiative 1240 is a dangerous experiment usually referred to as a “Parent Trigger” or “Conversion Trigger”. This “trigger” would allow just 51% of any school’s parents or just 51% of any school’s teachers to immediately convert it to a charter.

Even more concerning, Initiative 1240 does not require any public notice to parents or teachers that a charter conversion petition is being circulated! The first time students or parents or teachers hear about this conversion might be after the fact, when they can no longer do anything to stop it.

In every one of the four states that now allow a “trigger”, they can only be used by “failing schools”. However, the “trigger” within Initiative 1240 would be the first that could be used by any school, no matter how high or low achieving.

This is insanity. And it threatens the existence of every single school in our state. We certainly hope that you do not support it.

In summary, Initiative 1240 isn’t a minor piece of legislation, or a small trimming around the edges. It is an attempt to impose radical changes on a public education system that, while imperfect, has served our state well for 150 years. It is extremely risky with no clear benefit.

On an issue this important, we need to know where all three of our legislators stand.  We need you to take a stand on Initiative 1240 and make a public endorsement against it.

The 36th District Democrats voted overwhelming against Initiative 1240. The Washington State Democrats voted against it 500 to 0. The Seattle School Board voted 7-0 to oppose it, and its members were then joined in their opposition by Seattle Superintendent Jose Banda and State Superintendent, Randy Dorn.

There are times in history where those who hold the public trust must stand up and be counted. In such periods, “neutrality” is not acceptable. This is one of those periods. Given the exigent and serious threat that Initiative 1240 holds for our schools, non-commitment is an abdication of duty and an implicit endorsement of the forces hostile to the very concept of public education.

The stakes are too high to remain detached or indifferent. Years from now, when we look back at this period, the record will show who did the right thing and had the fortitude to oppose Initiative 1240 at a “make or break” time for our children and our public schools.

We are happy to meet with you and discuss this issue directly. We will do whatever is needed to enhance your understanding of Initiative 1240 and secure your commitment to our students.

Thank you, Reuven, for your time and consideration. We look forward to hearing back from you soon.