Support for public education is a cornerstone of progressivism and a major plank in the platform of the Democratic Party of Washington State.

So why does FUSE Washington take a neutral position on the charter schools initiative, I-1240?

On various lefty email discussion groups recently, there has been an outcry over FUSE Washington’s stance.

Demian Godon sent the following letter (reprinted with permission) to Aaron Ostrom and Jim Dawson of FUSE Washington:

It was very disappointing to see that FUSE chose not to take a
position on I-1240. There are few issues WA Democrats are more
unanimous on than their opposition to charter schools and I-1240.
And, the progressive side of the party is even stronger in its
opposition. The state Democrats recently voted virtually unanimously
to oppose I-1240 and every county and district Democratic group that’s
voted on the issue has voted overwhelmingly to endorse a NO vote on
I-1240 (none has endorsed a yes vote). And, while the No campaign is
endorsed by a long list of groups including those of teachers,
principals, administrators, schools boards, community groups, civil
rights groups, and parent groups (including the WA state PTA), the yes
side is endorsed by the business community and a handful of
billionaires (and the advocacy groups they prop up). Since when did
privatizing public education become a progressive cause? Since when
did undermining democratically elected oversight of public education
become a progressive cause? Since when did increasing segregation
become a progressive cause? Since when did neglecting special needs
students become a progressive cause? Since when did undermining
worker’s rights become a progressive cause? Since when did giving
power to private corporations over public goods become a progressive
cause? These are the realities that charters have brought in other
states. That is why progressives overwhelmingly oppose I-1240 and
why FUSE should as well.

Please reconsider your position in the FUSE voter’s guide and
recommend a strong NO vote for I-1240.

Activist David Spring writes, “I was at the Democratic Party meeting on Sept 20 when the Resolution to Oppose 1240 was passed. The vote was unanimous. There were no dissenting votes – even with hundreds of Democrats in the room. In addition, many Democratic LD organizations and county organizations have passed resolutions opposing 1240. For FUSE to fail to oppose 1240 is simply one more in a long series of examples that they are not a progressive organization. They are standing against the entire Democratic Party and against one million school children and against our State Constitution on this one.” (reprinted with permission)

Another activist, Walter Kloefkorn,  wrote, “The League of Education Voters, Democrats for Education Reform, Seattle Metro Chamber of Commerce, and Stand for Children are NOT progressive organizations and do not have progressive values. Neither does Bill Gates. Letting them into your ‘big tent’ makes your claim to be a progressive coalition laughable. ” (reprinted with permission)

Several other activists concurred and have written letters to FUSE to express their displeasure.

Let’s try to dispel some of the confusion.

Charter Schools may be unconstitutional

The Washington State Constitution‘s ARTICLE IX EDUCATION says:

SECTION 2 PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM. The legislature shall provide for a general and uniform system of public schools. The public school system shall include common schools, and such high schools, normal schools, and technical schools as may hereafter be established. But the entire revenue derived from the common school fund and the state tax for common schools shall be exclusively applied to the support of the common schools.

(emphasis added)

That suggests that charter schools are unconstitutional.  I realize that there is wriggle room, and the public schools include some alternative schools.  But if the State Constitution’s words mean anything, they imply that charter schools that aren’t under the control of the common administration aren’t allowed.

Besides, research has shown charter schools don’t work any better than public schools. (See the resolution and links here and this article.)

See too Florida charter schools: big money, little oversight:

But while charter schools have grown into a $400-million-a-year business in South Florida, receiving about $6,000 in taxpayer dollars for every student enrolled, they continue to operate with little public oversight. Even when charter schools have been caught violating state laws, school districts have few tools to demand compliance.

Charter schools have become a parallel school system unto themselves, a system controlled largely by for-profit management companies and private landlords — one and the same, in many cases — and rife with insider deals and potential conflicts of interest.

The major players who are pushing for charter schools pretend that they care about minorities. Their real motivation is to destroy public education, the way they’re trying to destroy Social Security and Medicare, and to funnel taxpayer funds into private corporations.  Having destroyed the economy through reckless deregulation, reckless wars, and reckless tax cuts for the rich, they now want to destroy the New Deal and other programs that created the middle class.

Earlier concerns about FUSE’s “Progressive Voters Guide”

Earlier in the year there was significant criticism, on the same lefty discussion groups, about some of the endorsements made in FUSE’s Progressive Voters Guide.  The guide endorsed some corporate Democrats and even some Republicans.   Progressives complained:

“I cancelled my emails from FUSE too.   They endorsed State Senator Don Benton four years ago!!!    Benton is now the state chairperson for ALEC.    He is in the pocket of every corporate sponsor available.”

I agree with you. Two years ago, FUSE consistently backed candidates opposed to Initiative 1098 instead of candidates in favor of 1098.”

FUSE endorsed an anti-union candidate who opposed Initiative 1098!”

Fuse is endorsing Tim Probst in the 17th LD this year (see below) but they endorsed Don Benton four years ago against a super-progressive candidate (David Carrier) !   Benton has been a really terrible senator forever so there was no excuse whatsoever for their endorsement of a right-wing conservative. “

When I questioned FUSE’s Jim Dawson about this, he explained: “We didn’t endorse either candidate. Some partners may have.”  Apparently, FUSE receives funding and help from various partners (see the list at the top of this page), and some of those partners have narrow, single-issue focus  and  care little about other issues, such as charter schools or fair taxation.

Many people question whether FUSE is a bonafide progressive organization.  I think the fundamental issue is the corruption of money, and the problem extends beyond FUSE, as I describe in The Cancer in the Democratic Party.