Originally posted in The Progressive.

Washington’s Charter School Fight—Let’s Set the Record Straight 

Washington State has been ground zero in the fight over charter schools this past year, and misinformation abounds.

Over the last several years Bill Gates and the Waltons of Walmart poured millions of dollars into Washington to establish charter schools in the state.

Last fall the Washington State Supreme Court decided that those charter schools are unconstitutional, due to a lack of public oversight while using taxpayer dollars. The same organizations backed by Bill Gates including the League of Education Voters (LEV), Stand for Children (SFC) and the Washington State Charter Schools Association along with Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) founded by hedge fund managers, began funneling money to state legislators tobring bills to the floor that will circumvent public oversight of these charter schools.

Why all the flurry of activity over charter schools in our state? It’s the money, of course.

Charter school operators, owners and CEO’s stand to gain millions by taking Federal, state and district money to run their schools, whether they meet standards set by school district guidelines or not.

Many of these charter schools will take state money allocated for each student and then, particularly if they are special education students or students with behavioral issues, or others who require more resources, will push them back into the public schools while keeping the taxpayer dollars.

Charter schools also make large profits by offering “blended learning” alternatives, which means placing students in front of computers for classes and testing. Some charter schools will place more than 40 students in a classroom in front of computers and have one “teacher” oversee the process. The teacher is not required to be certified, and many times is a Teach for America, Inc. (TFA) recruit who is paid far less than a certified teacher in the district, thus allowing the charter school to pocket money that should be spent teaching and supporting students.

There are charter school consultants who are openly fraudulent, charter school operators who bilk millions from states, and charter franchises that receive millions from the Department of Education, which is highly influenced by Eli Broad, a millionaire who champions charter schools. Some of our elected representatives will go to great lengths to set up profitable online charter schools in their districts,

Although charter schools tout themselves as being a better option to public schools, study after study has shown that is not the case. Skewed media coverage of the battle over charter schools, especially from the slick operation “The Seventy Four,”  has created an echo chamber of misinformation about charter schools.

I want to set the record straight.

Let’s start with “the children”. At this time approximately 840 students are enrolled in charter schools in Washington State—illegally according to the state supreme court. The state’s total public student population is 1.5 million. So a great deal of money and time are being spent on less than .001% of the total student population.

State legislators are spending more time and effort keeping these charter schools open than coming up with solutions to adequately fund public schools. The state legislators have been found in contempt of court by the Washington State Supreme Court for not meeting their paramount duty to adequately fund education and are being fined $100,000 per day for their lack of action or resolve.

These same legislators are getting money from charter school lobbyists. Representatives Chad Magendanz, Eric Pettigrew, Dave Sawyer and Senator Steve Litzow, all big proponents of charter schools, have received contributions from the League of Education Voters and Stand for Children, all backed by money from Bill Gates and DFER.

Representative Chad Magendanz started his political career as a school board director who pushed for a charter school plank in the PTSA state platform. As a state legislator he is now pushing a bill attempting to skirt the issue of illegal charter school funding by taxpayers. His idea is to use the state lottery money to fund charter schools.

In 2012 Representative Eric Pettigrew, along with Representative Steve Litzow and backed by the League of Education Voters, introduced a bill to allow charter schools in our state. Pettigrew was the target of  a tremendous backlash from his constituents, and the bill failed. But this year Pettigrew and Litzow are back trying to save charter schools with two more bills.


Washington State Representative David Sawyer came out in support of charter schools in December of last year. At the same time a charter school  PAC announced it would provide campaign donations to several state representatives, including Sawyer, in the run-up to the legislative session beginning in January of this year.

For information on other elected representatives in the state of Washington who are receiving money to push the charter school agenda, see Does the Education Platform of the Washington State Democrats Mean Anything to Our Legislators?

Charter schools were rejected three times in Washington State before Initiative 1240 which called for allowing charter schools in the state. This campaign was funded by none other than Bill Gates and Alice Walton of the Walmart family. $2.5M worth of campaign ads flooded the radio, local TV channels on online media during the campaign. The measure passed with 50.69% voting yes to 49.31% opposed to the initiative. This was hardly a mandate of the people.

Then came the buyer’s remorse as students in charter schools faced expulsion without due process. There are no protections such as appealing to an elected school board or a school- district official.

Then there is the matter of race. Charter school operators target minority communities and rarely venture outside of urban areas. Many of these charters are populated with un-certified and poorly paid Teach for America, Inc. recruits who receive only five weeks of training before they stand in front of a classroom. This would not go over well in the suburbs. There is an undertone of racism in the assumption that minority children deserve less.

What is not addressed when charter school proponents talk about closing the  “achievement gap” is that most of the children who fall into the gap live in low income areas and have pressing, basic needs that are not being met, including adequate food and clothing, necessary health care and even safe shelter. A bootstraps approach to schooling is not enough to close the gap.

The battle over charters in our state has more to do with money and ego than it does a genuine concern for children.

The question comes down to who should be determining the best way to teach our children. Might it not be parents, families, caregivers and educators who know the children better than anyone else? Or should it be a few wealthy individuals not educated in child development or any related field, who never went to public school, have never taught, and whose children will never step into a public school?

For additional information on some of the topics described in this article, see:

Got Dough? How Billionaires Rule Our Schools

BOOT CAMP for Education CEOs: The Broad Foundation Superintendents Academy

Eli Broad and the End of Public Education as We Know It

How to tell if your School District is infected by the Broad Virus

League of Education Voters (LEV) recent Gates’ grants


-Dora Taylor