We sent the following question to OSPI State Superintendent candidates Erin Jones and Chris Reykdal:

“Given the legal uncertainty of charter schools in our state, as head of the OSPI, would you distribute the Federal money to the existing charter schools and provide funding to set up new charter schools?”

The post Our question to OSPI candidates Erin Jones and Chris Reykdal about the recent charter school grant to Washington State provides more information on the $245M Federal charter school grant.

Both candidates responded and to follow is the response provided by Chris Reykdal:

I am very troubled that our state pursued federal funding for charter expansion before the substantial legal questions surrounding charter schools in our state have been resolved.  Here is what I have been able to gather:

  1. The Charter Commission pursued this money, but it required the signature of the State Education Agency (OSPI in our case);
  2. The money can only be spent on current charters and future charter schools, but not more general “innovation” schools operated by our public schools; and
  3. Because this money was not appropriated by the Legislature, it will require an “unanticipated receipts” process through the Office of Financial Management (OFM) before the Charter Commission and/or OSPI can expend the dollars.  The Legislature will have the authority to appropriate these funds during a 2017 supplemental budget action, but until then, these funds are only expendable with OFM approval.

I do not think it is appropriate to allocate these funds to existing charter schools or expansion of charters until our courts have ruled on the pending lawsuit.  That said, this allocation question will most certainly be settled before the next Superintendent is in place.  By then, the courts may have also settled the constitutional questions.  So the question, as posed, gets at our philosophy as OSPI candidates, but not likely our ability to influence this grant, short of a court determination that charters in our state are unconstitutional.

So let me get at my values.  The greatest frustration for me is that our federal government continues to step on the authority of states to determine the provision of basic education.  The fact that these funds are not flexible for innovation schools in general, but instead, charters-only, means that the U.S. Deptartment of Education has learned very little from the failures of No Child Left Behind, and they clearly are not interested in returning control and flexibility to the states.

In this case, the Feds are using taxpayer dollars to pick a preferred method of delivery, in the same way they tried to use our tax dollars to force us into tying student test scores to teacher evaluations.

At this point, it isn’t about whether you are for or against charters.  The question before us now is, are you, or are you not in support of the well understood principle that education is a state issue.  Congress can absolutely establish goals and civil rights, and other aspirational interests, but the delivery of education is a state’s rights issue that should be void of federal preferences.

I would prefer that the feds use their (our) resources to help the states fully accommodate students with special needs (an actual right), to fully enforce civil rights issues necessary to close opportunity gaps (a civil right), or to help us ensure that our water is not lead infused (a basic human right).  These should be far greater priorities than driving dollars into legally questionable charter schools that are an option at best, but clearly not a civil or human right.

Chris Reykdal

Candidate for Washington State Superintendent, 2016