Korsmo’s Weekly Roundup: The Home Stretch

Chris Korsmo, CEO, League of Education Voters
Chris Korsmo


You know that I’m a fan of football and a huge fan of Seahawks coach Pete Carroll. His post-game victory speech almost always begins thus: “Do we win the game in the first quarter? (NO!) Do we win it in the second quarter? Do we win the game in the third quarter? No. We win the game in the fourth quarter.” Well folks, as it relates to the legislative session, we are firmly in the throes of the fourth quarter and fast approaching the two-minute warning.

With less than a week to go, much remains to be done. That list includes a fix for our charter schools, wildfires, a supplemental budget and myriad education issues. The one thing that has made it past the finish line is the McCleary task force bill that the Governor signed on Monday – the hope being that the task force satisfies the Supreme Court’s ruling requiring a plan for full funding. You can get more detail about the role of the task force here.  All bill movement and descriptions can be found here.

Speaking of the budget, both budgets have passed their respective chambers (HB 2376 & SB 6246). Significant differences remain regarding the use of the Rainy Day Fund – the House is transferring $318 million from the Rainy Day Fund and the Senate is transferring $0. Required spending is eating up most of the additional revenue, leaving few resources to enhance or expand programs, which further complicates matters. The estimated additional required spending is expected to be approximately $360 million:

  • $235 million – Forest fires and related recovery efforts
  • $124 million – Court mandated healthcare spending and higher than expected healthcare costs

Session is set to expire at midnight Thursday and everyone wants to get out to start the campaign season. A special session isn’t out of the realm of possibility, but doesn’t fall into the realm of the desirable. What is desirable is final action on a handful of bills that made it out of the opposite chamber this week, including:

  • HB 1345 – Defining professional learning for educators
  • HB 1999 – Improving educational outcomes for foster youth
  • SB 6466 – Concerning student services for students with disabilities in higher education.

Here are bills that passed out of opposite chamber, but still have some differences to be worked out before getting to the Governor’s desk:

  • SB 6601 – Washington College Savings Program
  • HB 1682 – Increasing educational outcomes for homeless students

We are still in the thick of it on charter schools. Kids and parents have burned up the concrete turning out in Olympia and most mainstream media are in support of a fix. All attention is turned now to the House where the next action must be taken.

It’s looking less likely that we’ll get the funding fix we need for Career and Technical Education (CTE), unless a rabbit and a hat are part of the final budget negotiations. Which is a shame, because our kids need improved access to CTE – it is the bridge to the world after high school for many.

In other news:

  • The higher education bottleneck is one more indicator of disparity.
  • I’m going to eschew the standard adjectives that often attach themselves to the current front runners for the White House. And instead, give you their education platforms, ideology, and just musings.
  • Ok, RubioCruz, and Sanders, too.
  • It’s not too late to celebrate Seuss’ birthday.

Ok folks, that’s it for the week. But don’t turn away – next week will be past us in a heartbeat and there’s a LOT left to do. Enjoy your weekend, hug your children, and thanks for all you do for Washington’s kids.

Chris and Team LEV

Activist of the Month: Darcelina Soloria

March 2016 Activist of the Month Darcelina Soloria
March 2016 Activist of the Month Darcelina Soloria

Darcelina Soloria met LEV Policy Director Amy Liu in October 2015 after Amy sent out public charter school information to parents.  Darcelina was moved to take action and led a phone bank effort in December, organizing 15 people who each made 10 calls in a single night.

Since then, Darcelina has led 5 more phone bank events where she encouraged fellow volunteers to make 15 calls each time, urging legislators to support a fix for public charter schools.

Darcelina’s own public school education went without a hitch until high school, where she was able to pass algebra only because of help from a classmate.  Her math teacher was emotionally unavailable and did not offer any extra support.  She also did not know how to write a paper.

As you can imagine, Darcelina was paralyzed when she started community college.  But thanks to instructors that were a better fit, she surprised herself by earning an A in English.  She transferred to 4-year institution right out of community college and continued her upward learning trajectory with an A in English 101 out of the gate.

Darcelina realized her troubles in high school weren’t her fault – she just didn’t have the right teachers to match her learning style.  Now she has an accounting degree.

Darcelina and her husband hadn’t planned on having children.  When she found out she was pregnant with her son, it was a big surprise.  She started thinking about educational options but lived in Hillyard, a Spokane neighborhood not associated with good public schools.  And she couldn’t afford private school.

When looking at kindergarten prospects, Darcelina thought about Montessori but found Spokane International Academy, a public charter school that opened in Hillyard last year to help that historically underserved community.  Darcelina applied and was thrilled when her son got in.

Darcelina appreciates the school’s focus in on kids and how they learn.  She also is impressed by SIA Head of School Travis Franklin’s goal of helping students become community-minded and globally-oriented.

In kindergarten, her son is now speaking Spanish and writing papers.  When he started, he was at pre-K level.  By the time he gets to 8th grade, Darcelina believes he will have a clear understanding of how he can become a great citizen locally, statewide and globally.

Darcelina and her son don’t want to see their school taken away.  Darcelina says, “If we look at charters as a learning environment, why don’t we roll them out in other places?  These are pockets of where we can learn how to better teach our kids.”

Answers to questions about Public Charter Schools

Many students created their own signs

As the Legislature continues to work on a solution for charter schools, we have received a number of questions about who can manage a charter school, how charter schools are funded, and whether charter school staff can unionize. Below are answers to some of the most common questions. For more information or answers to additional questions, please visit http://lets.actnowforwastudents.org/cards

Can private for-profit companies manage and operate public charter schools in Washington state?

No. Initiative Measure 1240 and SB 6194 state that all independently managed public schools (public charters) must be operated by qualified nonprofit organizations. http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2015-16/Pdf/Bills/Senate%20Bills/6194-S2.E.pdf

Under Initiative 1240 and SB 6194, all charter school operator applicants must be either a public benefit nonprofit corporation (RCW 24.03.490) or a nonprofit corporation (RCW 24.03.005) that has applied for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. Additionally, nonprofit corporations operating charters may not be a sectarian or religious organization. By definition, nonprofits cannot generate revenue in excess of cost of operations. All funds must be used for educational purposes.

Can public charter schools access local levy dollars?

No. Local levy funds may only fund common schools. Because public charter schools aren’t common schools they’re unable to receive local levy dollars. If SB 6194 passes, public charter schools will only receive federal and state funds. A constitutional amendment on the use of local levy dollars would be needed for public charters to receive local levy dollars.

Do charter schools receive less public funding than traditional public schools?

In Washington, under Initiative 1240, some charters received local levy dollars and some did not, thus some charter schools received less public funding. If SB 6194 passes, no charter schools will receive local levy dollars, so all of the schools will receive less public funding than district schools.

Do charter schools have the same level of accountability and scrutiny over their finances as traditional public schools?

Charter schools have greater accountability and scrutiny over their finances than traditional public schools. Charter schools must submit their finances and budgets to their authorizer and are also subject to the same state auditing and reporting requirements under statute and OSPI rules as other public schools. Information on charter school finances will be publicly available, through OSPI public reporting and the annual authorizer reports submitted to the State Board of Education that includes each school’s financial performance.

Do public schools accept private funds from for-profit entities and foundations?

Yes. All public schools, both traditional and charter, use private funds. In most public schools this can range from a parent’s company donating materials and supplies to large private donations to school districts for technology, increased staffing, and building improvements.

Can public charter school employees form unions and have collective bargaining rights?

Yes. Public charter school employees can form unions and collectively bargain pay, benefits, and working conditions. These unions must be limited to the charter employees and separate from other bargaining units in the school districts, educational service districts, and institutions of higher education.

Nationally, 12% of charter schools have collective bargaining agreements with teachers unions. There are five states – Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, and Virginia that require charter schools to be unionized by law.

500 Public Charter School Students and Parents Rally in Olympia February 25, 2016

More than 500 students, parents, educators and advocates (including LEV staff) representing Washington’s public charter schools traveled from across the state to Olympia to urge legislators to act quickly and vote to save Washington’s public charter schools for the long-term.  Here are photos from the event:

LEV Tri-Cities organizer Ruvine Jimenez preps public charter school students for the rally
LEV Tri-Cities organizer Ruvine Jimenez preps public charter school students for the rally
The Capitol is THAT way!
The Capitol is THAT way!
Assembling on the steps
Assembling on the steps
More students, parents, educators and advocates are still coming
More students, parents, educators and advocates are still coming
Students practice their chants for legislators
Students practice their chants for legislators
Many students created their own signs
Many students created their own signs
How often do you see students proclaiming how much they love their school?
How often do you see students proclaiming how much they love their school?
Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-37) gets the crowd fired up
Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-37) gets the crowd fired up
Senator Mark Mullet (D-5) congratulates students for getting directly involved in democracy
Senator Mark Mullet (D-5) congratulates students for getting directly involved in democracy
A public charter schools teacher, student and parent tell their stories
A public charter schools teacher, student and parent tell their stories
Senator Joe Fain (R-47) shows his support for public charter schools
Senator Joe Fain (R-47) shows his support for public charter schools
Rep. Norma Smith (R-10) tells students that they represent the future of Washington state
Rep. Norma Smith (R-10) tells students that they represent the future of Washington state
The rally drew plenty of media coverage
The rally drew plenty of media coverage
Rep. Bob McCaslin (R-4) shares his experiences as a public school teacher
Rep. Bob McCaslin (R-4) shares his experiences as a public school teacher
Rep. Chad Magendanz (R-5) tells students he's confident legislators will vote to keep public charter schools open
Rep. Chad Magendanz (R-5) tells students he’s confident legislators will vote to keep public charter schools open
The rally heads up the Capitol steps...
The rally heads up the Capitol steps…
... and into the Capitol rotunda!
… and into the Capitol rotunda!
Cheers are much louder in a large marble hall
Cheers are much louder in a large marble hall
Legislators are listening
Legislators are listening



Korsmo’s Weekly Roundup: The First Bill Cutoff is Upon Us

Chris Korsmo, CEO, League of Education Voters
Chris Korsmo

It’s that time of year. Yes, there’s that football game. And the groundhog has done his thing. And the Iowa caucuses are thankfully in the rear view. But it’s the legislative calendar that has my attention. This week marks the first of many legislative deadlines. It’s the cut-off date for bills to be moved from the policy committee in their house of origin. In other words, let’s say you just told your kid to clean their room and they’re stalling. So you go to that all time parent favorite, the countdown. “You better get started on that room by the time I count to three or….” This cut off is roughly the equivalent of hitting “one” on the one to three countdown. They’re in the room assessing the damage. The real work hasn’t really started yet, but the wheels are turning and you can put your empty threat on hold.

Let’s check the progress:

  • On the charter school fix, the Senate has passed a bill over to the House where a group of legislators are working on a compromise they hope will move both sides to closure. Looks like a hearing on charters will take place in the House on February 19.
  • There’s all kinds of hot mess going on with assessments. Last year’s bill morphed into something unintelligible. And passed. The version that was originally introduced last year was also brought back under a new number and, just to make things interesting, a separate bill de-linking the statewide science exams from graduation requirements was also introduced. Take comfort, we’re not the only ones struggling with this issue.
  • Bills to close the achievement and opportunity gaps moved in both chambers. Representative Santos’ bill HB 1541  passed out of the House on a party line vote of 50 – 47, while Senator Litzow’s bill SB 6244 was exec’ed out of Committee.
  • Two of the Early Learning Action Alliance’s priority bills 6598 and 2716 passed out of their policy committees. Both expand Working Connections Child Care to provide continuity of care to vulnerable children.
  • SB 6408 focused on additional training to para-educators passed out of the Senate Ed Committee.
  • The “plan to plan” for McCleary SB 6195 and HB 2366 are both alive, with the Senate version getting out of committee and the House bill passing through the chamber. The sticking point remains the over-reliance on local levies – made stickier by the fact that it’s hard to know what local levies are used for.
  • On the higher ed front, folks are tripping all over themselves to provide free community college. The House version passed out of Committee with amendments.
  • There’s more, a whole lot of it, and you can find the aforementioned more in our bill tracker, here. Remember, dear ones, that just because a bill doesn’t make the deadline doesn’t mean the issue is absolutely, totally and completely dead. Bills turn into amendments, amendments turn into budget provisos, and rules become guidelines. So, stay tuned.

As lots of good (and some not so good) ideas are making their way through the legislature, newly released data out on homelessness reminds us that we need to continue to be creative and committed to ALL of our kids. With nearly 35,000 homeless kids in Washington, we’re going to need to double down on finding solutions for all our kids to be served. Still, there’s no dearth of folks getting in line to lead the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Other good reads:

  • What’s that degree worth? And for those of you with a statistics degree, trythis.
  • Social Emotional Learning (SEL) practice extends beyond the school day.
  • Even though we don’t want to count the state science tests, new views ofSaturn could inspire our re-thinking on the importance of science.

Ok, kids, that’s it for today. Have a wonderful weekend. Here’s hoping the Super Bowl ads live up to the hype.  And happy Lunar New Year.



Why a Charter School Opponent became a Charter School Parent

By Melissa Pailthorp, guest blogger

Melissa Pailthorp

Almost precisely one year ago, my daughter announced that she would not attend the traditional public high school we’d secured for her, rather, she wanted to attend Sierra Summit Public School, one of our state’s first charter schools.  I had voted no twice on charters.  I am generally pro-labor.  I’m adamant and actively committed to strengthening public schools through work on the levies campaign and serving on our other school’s PTSA board.  My daughter would be giving up one of our city’s destination public high schools with its strong academics, robust extra-curriculars and an amazing music program.  I think she’d probably thrive at that school.  She wanted a smaller institution and had found the inadvertent segregation of her middle school offensive and unfair, even if it worked okay for her.  I applauded her sense of justice, but still wasn’t sure that her inclination toward this choice was a good thing.

As we dug in, I learned a lot.  All charters in Washington must choose all students by blind lottery to allow opportunity for all.   All charters in Washington must be operated by nonprofit organizations.  They are not by definition anti-union (Washington’s charter law prevents this and Green Dot schools, the parent entity of Destiny School in Tacoma, are unionized).  They pay competitive salaries.  The pioneering educational leaders behind these schools are some of the state’s most committed, accomplished and well-regarded public school educators in the field.  Authorized charters have specific and aggressive accountability for student progress governed by their contract and consistent with state standards.  Moreover, the school my daughter chose had a proven model that worked for an incredible range of kids across seven different locations in California, evidenced by four-year college acceptance rates of more than 94% year on year.   Project-based and self-driven learning guide the curriculum, not the technology that helps deliver the content, although that technology enables both scale and teaching to individual kids as well as amazing collaboration between teachers across campuses.  My kid could attend a school where all kids – regardless of where they were when they came in the door – would be learning together in ways appropriate to each.  My kid would benefit hugely from truly and deeply engaging in the most diverse student body she’s ever encountered.  Having lived in south Seattle most of my life, both watching and participating in the multitude of efforts and machinations to improve struggling, segregated schools, I decided I was comfortable with – and proud of – my daughter’s decision to give Summit a go.

Fast forward one year and we find ourselves ensconced in a battle I never imagined would be part of our experience – and which I cannot help but support.  My advocacy is compelled by the constant refrain from political leaders across the spectrum who pledge their focus and devotion to closing the achievement gap, yet we continue to lead the nation in the disparities in our schools, impacting kids today.  It’s inspired by incredible academic growth now of many of my daughter’s peers who have never felt successful in school, and their caring families showing their commitment to these schools, while some decision makers defer action given the need to eventually (maybe next session) find the solution(s) to McCleary.  I’m appalled that instead of embracing and learning from the pedagogical models that are yielding early, incredible progress with the amazing spectrum of kids at these schools on a financial model that is feasible at public funding levels, we’re at risk of leaving a solution for charters on the legislative table.  We need broadly accessible, scaleable ways to successfully educate all our kids well, with consistency and coherence for families…so how can we not support these efforts?!!

It’s not fair to ask the kids and parents who simply want this option, one that works for their kids today, to endure status quo and wait for the day when things will be better – unless you’re willing to put your kid in the same situation as theirs.  I’m not.

Supreme Court Leaves Kids in Limbo

The Washington State Supreme Court issued a devastating ruling late on Friday afternoon, prior to a 3-day weekend and after charter schools had already started their year, declaring the way the state funds public charter schools unconstitutional.

The ruling puts the immediate future of over 1200 students in jeopardy. In addition to public charter schools, the ruling may impact tribal compact schools, Running Start, and other programs that do not fit into the Court’s narrow view of what can be funded with education dollars. Many strategies aimed at addressing the state’s achievement and opportunity gaps are at risk.

The parents with children in these schools, and the advocates who support them, will continue to work to ensure these schools stay open now and into the future.

  • Teams of supporters are reviewing the Court ruling and preparing a legal response.
  • Options for keeping these schools open are being explored.
  • Advocates are asking the Governor and legislators to act immediately to rectify the situation.

You can help by contacting your legislator and asking them to support a technical fix to ensure public charter schools are funded and other investments aimed at closing gaps continue now and into the future.

Activist of the Month: Adel Sefrioui

Adel SefriouiAt the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activist of the Month for November: Adel Sefrioui. Read more about Adel’s work developing Excel Public Charter School, which will open in Kent in 2015.

Adel Sefrioui is the son of immigrant parents. His father emigrated from Morocco in the early ’70s and his mother from Iran shortly before the 1979 revolution. While his parents came to the United States for different reasons—his father, to pursue the “American dream,” and his mother, to escape tyranny in her home country—they both came from cultures that highly value education. Both Persian and Moroccan cultures share the belief that education can be the great equalizer in society. Read More

Activist of the Month: Quontica and Marlando Sparks

Quontica & Marlando SparksAt the League of Education Voters (LEV), we recognize all of the hard work that you do toward improving public education across Washington state. We are pleased to announce our Activists of the Month for October: Quontica and Marlando Sparks. Read more about their experience advocating for parent engagement and their plans to open a public charter school for at-risk youth in Pasco.

Quontica and Marlando Sparks first testified about education in Washington state this past April, when they spoke about the impact of school discipline on families they worked with. But their involvement in education advocacy started much earlier. Read More

Charter School Implementation Moves Forward in Washington

Public charter school implementation is moving forward in Washington thanks to voters’ approval of Initiative 1240, which will allow up to 40 charter schools to open in Washington over the next five years.

Still not sure about what charter schools are?

Below is a list of the top five things you should know about charter schools:

1. Charter schools are public schools.
Public charter schools are free and open to all students and receive state funding based on student enrollment just like traditional public schools.

2. Public charter schools must meet the same academic standards as traditional public schools and will be held to high accountability standards.
Charter schools will be subject to strict oversight and public accountability, including annual performance reviews to evaluate their success in improving student outcomes. Schools not meeting the accountability standards will be closed. At the end of the five-year implementation period, an evaluation will be conducted to determine whether additional public charter schools should be allowed.

3. Charter school teachers are subject to the same certification requirements as teachers in other public schools.
Great teachers are essential to student success, and teachers in public charter schools must meet the same teaching certification requirements as teachers in all other public schools.

4. Charter schools have more flexibility than traditional public schools.
Public charter schools can set their own schedules (such as offer a longer school day or school year), have more control over their curriculum, budget and staffing decisions, and can offer more customized learning experiences for students.

Charter schools are free to innovate in ways that improve student achievement. For example, there are charter schools focused on STEM education, performing arts, project-based learning, college preparation, career readiness, language immersion, civic engagement, classical education, global awareness or meeting the needs of autistic students – just to name a few.

Many successful and high-performing public charter schools are dedicated to serving low-income students and student of color and are succeeding at closing achievement and opportunity gaps.

5. Washington is the forty-second state to have public charter schools.
Initiative 1240, which became law December 6, 2012, allows up to 40 public charter schools in Washington state over a five-year period. The law was carefully designed to incorporate what other states have learned in 20 years of experience with public charter schools. In Washington, we modeled our law on the best of what works in other states, that’s why our law is already ranked 3rd best in the nation by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

Next steps

This week, the nine commissioners to serve on Washington’s Charter School Commission will be announced. The Commission will be charged with reviewing applications, authorizing, and holding accountable quality public charter schools.

The State Board of Education is in the process of approving rules pertaining to charter schools.

We expect the first charter school in Washington to open in the fall of 2014.