Charter schools Washington State Politics

Why Bob Ferguson & Randy Dorn are Wrong to Support Charter Schools

On September 24 2015, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a motion with the Washington State Supreme Court asking them to reconsider their decision that the billionaire funded charter school initiative 1240 violated the Washington State Constitution. Washington State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Randy Dorn, issued a statement agreeing with Bob Ferguson. In this article, we will explain just a few of the flaws in the outrageous and misleading claims made by Bob Ferguson and Randy Dorn in their attempt to justify and promote charter schools. But before we get to the flaws in their claims, we will first address three important issues. First we will examine the claim that members of the public should not question the opinions of our elected leaders as they are the so-called “experts.” Second, we will briefly describe what charter schools actually are. Third, we will explain why Initiative 1240 does not represent the “will of the people” and instead represents the “greed of the billionaires.”

Does the Public Have a Role in Defending the Washington State Constitution? Some have argued that we should not question the opinions and actions of Bob Ferguson and Randy Dorn. They are the experts and understand the Washington State Constitution better than the rest of us. There are several flaws with this reasoning. First, is the fact that the Washington State Constitution, like our federal constitution, was not written by legal experts. It was written by ordinary people… farmers, shop keepers and homeowners just like the rest of us. It was written in plain words with plain meanings. It is not merely up to our State Supreme Court to defend our State Constitution. It is up to ALL OF US to defend our State Constitution. I therefore urge you to read our State Constitution for yourself and decide who is right or wrong in this dispute over what it really means.

I have not only read our State Constitution, I have compared our State Constitution to the Constitution of several other States. It is clear to me that the ordinary people who wrote our State Constitution understood that our public schools are the bedrock of our Democracy and the foundation of our economic prosperity. Did you know that our State Constitution has stronger protections for our public schools than the Constitutions of any other State? For example, our State Constitution is the ONLY Constitution in the nation that calls for the full and ample funding of our public schools to be the PARAMOUNT or most important duty of our State legislature.

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No other state constitution in the nation assigns funding public schools as the single highest priority of the state. Here is a link to the Washington State Constitution so you can read it for yourself. This is a PDF file so you can save it to your computer and/or print it out and read it off line: http://leg.wa.gov/LawsAndAgencyRules/Documents/12-2012-WAStateConstitution.pdf

Along with the US Constitution, the Washington State Constitution is the “supreme law” of Washington State. Our State Constitution is not merely a set of guidelines. It is the law. Yet, Bob Ferguson, Randy Dorn and their billionaire funded supporters in our State legislature are now treating it like some sort of toy to be manipulated in whatever way is needed to justify the privatization of our public schools.

After reading our State Constitution, read the Brief of the Plaintiffs (aka League of Women Voters) explaining why charter schools are contrary to our State Constitution. This brief also provides a good summary of why the wise drafters of our State Constitution in 1889 thought that a “uniform system” of fully funded public schools was essential to our democracy and to economic prosperity. Here is the link: http://www.courts.wa.gov/content/Briefs/A08/89714-0%20Brief%20of%20Appellants.pdf

Here is a quote from the League of Women Voters Brief to the Supreme Court:

(After quoting the State Constitution), “These constitutional obligations and constraints reflect the founders’ conviction that the State’s success depends on a centralized and uniform system of basic education subject to voter accountability. The Charter School Act (Initiative 1240) departs significantly from the and local funds. Charter schools are operated by private organizations not subject to voter control… are not required to follow most of the uniform laws and rules applicable to common schools, including components of the constitutionally required basic education and discipline provision…The trial court correctly held that charter schools are not “common schools” under article IX and, therefore, are prohibited from receiving constitutionally restricted funds…(because) the Charter School Act Creates a System of Publicly Funded, Privately Operated Schools. ”

Then read the ruling of the Washington State Supreme Court explaining why charter schools are contrary to our State Constitution. Here is the link: http://www.courts.wa.gov/opinions/pdf/897140.pdf

Here is a quote from the ruling: “We hold that the provisions of I-1240 that designate and treat charter schools as common schools violate article IX, section 2 of our state constitution and are void. This includes the Act’s funding provisions, which attempt to tap into and shift a portion of moneys allocated for common schools to the new charter schools authorized by the Act.”

Article IX, Section 2 of our State Constitution states: “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.”

Here is another quote from the Supreme Court ruling: “A common school, within the meaning of our constitution, is one that is common to all children of proper age and capacity, free, and subject to and under the control of the qualified voters of the school district… because charter schools under 1-1240 are run by an appointed board…and thus are not subject to local voter control, they cannot qualify as ‘common schools.’ “

Then read Bob Ferguson’s motion for reconsideration. Here is the link: http://agportal-s3bucket.s3.amazonaws.com/uploadedfiles/Another/News/Press_Releases/89714-0_MotionForReconsideration.pdf

Finally, here is the link to Randy Dorn’s Press Release agreeing with Bob Ferguson: http://k12.wa.us/Communications/PressReleases2015/Statement-AGMotion.aspx

What Charter Schools Really Are… An Attempt to Privatize, Rob from & Destroy our Public Schools
Thanks to the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson, who understood that a Democracy can only work with the informed consent of the people, our nation built a strong system of public schools. The American people invest one trillion dollars per year in making sure that the next generation has a good education. Unfortunately, a few greedy billionaires do not care about our children, our democracy or the future of our nation. They see our public schools as a Gold Mine ripe for the plunder.

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For the past 20 years, billionaires have spent millions of dollars lying to the American people about the wonders of charter schools. They argue that all we need to do to help our kids is to put billionaires and Wall Street speculators in charge of our public schools. They insist that we should run our public schools like any other profit making business. They ignore the fact that 90% of all new businesses go broke in three to five years. They ignore the fact that recent rise of uncontrolled rampant greed has destroyed our economy and lead to the highest concentration of wealth since the Great Depression.

Billionaires ignore the fact that they know nothing about children or how children learn. This is why nearly all charter schools turn into kid prisons. Eliminating publicly elected school boards allowing charter schools to ignore child safety laws has resulted in charter schools that subject our children to spending their days in what amounts to miniature prisons rather than their community school.

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Charter schools are fraud factories that siphon off public funds that should be going to our public schools. The whole point of charter schools is to use tax payer money to increase corporate profits. Charter schools have recklessly stolen billions of dollars in tax payer funds that should have been spent hiring teachers and lowering class sizes. Allowing billionaires to divert funds away from our public schools makes our school funding situation even worse!

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A study done of Florida charter schools found that only 40% of the funds went to pay teachers while 40% went to corporate profits. Meanwhile, real public schools focus 80% of the funds on paying teachers and do not divert any money to corporate profits. Thus, how charter schools make a profit is by cutting the pay for teachers in half. No wonder charter school operators want to get rid of teachers unions! Numerous members of the Florida State legislature benefited directly or indirectly from charter school kickbacks.
http://origin.library.constantcontact.com/download/get/file/1103316066537-1070/LWV+Final+Report+Statewide+Study+1-3.pdf

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Despite all of these drawbacks, the world’s richest man, Bill Gates has pumped millions of dollars into promoting charter school lies. Here is a screen shot of just one of many donations from the Gates Foundation database:

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Initiative 1240 represents the Greed of the Billionaires… Not the Will of the People
In his motion to the court, Bob Ferguson repeatedly claimed that the charter school Initiative 1240 was the “will of the people.” Bob Ferguson conveniently forgets that charter schools had been previously defeated in public votes in Washington State three times. The only reason it passed in 2012 was due to millions of dollars in false promotional ads paid for by Bill Gates in order to deceive the public about charter schools. Even despite pouring millions of dollars into promoting charter schools, Bill’s charter school initiative was nearly defeated for a fourth time. Here are the results:

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Out of three million votes cast, Bill was able to fool just enough people to vote for this scam to have it pass by only a fraction of one percent of those who bothered to vote in this election. However, the real story was not the outcome of the election, it was how the outcome was obtained. For that story, we need to go to the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission.

Direct Spending on the Charter School Initiative
Even to get the charter school initiative on the ballot, Bill Gates and his billionaire friends paid petition signature gathers an average of $6 per signature to gather more than 300,000 signatures in June 2012 – for a cost of nearly $2 million.

Conversely, the “No on Initiative 1240” Campaign raised only $26,000 and spent $24,000. The “People for our Public Schools” committee raised $701,000 and spent $701,000. The total spent opposing the Charter School Initiative was $725,000. But this amount was dwarfed by what the billionaires spent to pass the initiative. The “Yes on 1240” group raised and spent $11,401,000. The billionaires outspent teachers and parents by a margin of nearly 16 to 1 just in direct spending. Thus, this was not an election. It was more like a bidding war.

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Let’s look at the major donors for the charter school initiative. Bill Gates was the biggest promoter tossing in $3.6 million. Another Microsoft billionaire, Paul Allen, tossed in 1.6 million. A few other billionaires including Alice Walton, Nick Hanauer, Steve Ballmer, Mike Bezos, Bruce McCaw and Eli Broad tossed in the rest. Billionaires will always win bidding wars. But even this $11 million turns out to be the tip of the iceberg compared to what the billionaires really spent to pass this initiative.

Indirect Spending on the Charter Schools Initiative
The billionaire controlled media produced articles in favor of charter school over articles pointing out drawbacks of charter schools by a rate of 20 to 1. This included the State’s biggest newspaper, the Seattle Times, endorsing the initiative and pumping out dozens of articles (which were nothing more than “ads”) on the benefits of charter schools and/or the shortcomings of public schools. But the real heavy lifting in passing the Charter School Initiative was done by two Bill Gates funded fake “grassroots” groups called the League of Education Voters (LEV) and Stand for Children (SFC). Enter LEV into the Gates Foundation Grants Search Box and you will see 17 grants totaling $12 million.

What did the $12 million to LEV buy?
LEV used the money to hire dozens of fake “education advocates” who went around Washington state in the two years preceding the Initiative to nearly every one of hundreds of school district PTA groups with slide shows and handouts bashing teachers, condemning public schools and advocating “change.”

I attended several of these hour long propaganda sessions. Those giving the presentations claimed to be “concerned parents.” They never mentioned that they were paid by Bill Gates through LEV to travel around the state lying to parents. This group also attended PTA regional and statewide conventions and infiltrated and corrupted the Washington State PTA – a group that claims to advocate for and represent more than one million parents and has a massive email list to spread the vicious billionaire propaganda to unsuspecting parents. LEV was not the only front group promoting the charter schools initiative in Washington State in 2012. Enter “Stand for Children” into the Gates Foundation Grant Search box and you will see 10 grants totaling about $10 million

What did the $10 million to SFC buy?
Stand for Children worked side by side with LEV to push Gates propaganda to parents in meetings around Washington State – also focusing on the Washington State, regional and local PTA meetings. The goal was to create a dissatisfaction with public schools in our State. No mention was made at these meetings of the fact that school funding in Washington State had plunged from 11th in the nation to 47th in the nation – or that our State now has the highest class sizes in the nation. Instead, the focus was on “failing schools.” Ironically, most parents really like their own schools and their own teachers. So the real scare tactic was comparing how schools in the US do not “compete” with other schools around the world. The message was that the reason there was no jobs in the US is because our schools were failed to compete on the world market – not because billionaires have outsourced all of our jobs to sweat shops in China.

Just to make sure that LEV and SFC received a warm welcome at Washington State PTA meetings, Bill Gates also bribed the PTA. Enter PTA into the Gates Foundation Search box and you will see 5 donations for about $3 million. Here is one to the Washington State PTA in 2011 – the year before the Charter School Initiative was put on the ballot in Washington State.

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The “key policy” Bill Gates was pushing at the Washington State PTA was charter schools. When you add up the $2 million for signature gatherers with the $11.4 million in direct spending and the $12 million to LEV and the $10 million to SFC, the grand total Bill Gates really spent buying the charter school election was about $35 million. Thus, Bill Gates outspent parents and teachers by a margin of 50 to 1.

It is therefore absurd for Bob Ferguson to claim that the charter school initiative was the “will of the people” when Bill Gates was allowed to spend $35 million in order to get his charter school privatization scam past the voters by a fraction of one percent of the vote.

Now that we have a better understanding of what charter schools really are and who is promoting them, let’s take a look at four of the arguments used by Bob Ferguson and Randy Dorn to promote charter schools and oppose the Washington State Supreme Court ruling against charter schools.

False Claim #1: Randy Dorn and Bob Ferguson claim that charter schools should be allowed to continue with public funding for the rest of the school year because “one thousand children would be harmed by closing their schools.”
In an argument that sounds more like “we should allow bank robbers to rob banks because otherwise they will have no money to feed their kids,” both Randy Dorn and Bob Ferguson abandon the “rule of law” which says that illegal conduct should not be condoned for any period of time (much less an entire school year). In their false concern for the one thousand children signed up to attend charter schools in our state, they turn their backs on the one million children attending REAL public schools in our state who would see their school funding go down in order to pay for the funding of private for profit charter schools. In fact, if Randy Dorn and Bob Ferguson really cared about the harm inflicted on students by closing their schools, they would oppose charter schools completely since charter schools are almost three times more likely to close than real public schools. The way to protect kids from school closures is to prohibit charter schools! http://www.prwatch.org/news/2015/06/12859/charter-program-expansion-looms-despite-ongoing-probes-mismanagement-and-closed

In fact, Randy and Bob have nothing to worry about. Billionaires have plenty of money to keep their charter school scam operations running should they choose to do so. As for the impact of one thousand children returning to their local public schools, that is also a ridiculous argument. Every year, thousands of Washington State children move from one school to another. In fact, every month in Washington state, thousands of children move from one school to another in our state! We have more than two thousand public schools in Washington state. So adding one thousand children back into our public schools would be the same as adding one more child to a school that already has 600 children. Both Randy Dorn and Bob Ferguson should be ashamed of themselves for pushing this absurd nonsense on the public.

False Claim #2: Dorn and Ferguson claim that the Supreme Court ruling jeopardizes funding for many public school programs
Randy Dorn and Bob Ferguson both claim that the Supreme Court ruling jeopardizes funding for innovative public school programs such as “Running Start” and “Aviation High School.” This is also utter nonsense. The funding for both of these programs is run through and controlled by locally elected school boards. Funding for the Washington State Skills Centers is also based on agreements with local public school districts which are authorized and overseen by elected public school boards. Moreover some programs are outside the bound of common schools, a completely different from charter schools in that they are not a substitute for public schools – and therefore not subject to the Supreme Court charter school ruling. Here is the explanation on Page 33 of the Plaintiff’s Brief to the Supreme Court: “Charter schools cannot be equated with specialized schools and supplemental education programs designed to serve the special needs of certain students, such as incarcerated youth, ch. 28A.193, .194 RCW; and blind or deaf students, ch. 72.40 RCW. Unlike charter schools, these specialized schools are separate from and not subject to the “general and uniform” requirement of section 2… Charter schools, by contrast, are intended as a substitute for the local uniform public school, rather than a supplement to meet the educational needs of a discrete student population.”

Randy Dorn and Bob Ferguson both know all of this. But they bring up this obvious Red Herring argument in order to scare the public into believing nonsense that is simply not true. Again, they should be ashamed of themselves for misleading the public.

False Claim #3: Our State Constitution does not require “complete control” by a locally elected school board but only “some control”
Ferguson and Dorn claim that as long as a locally elected school board retains “some control” over charter schools, then charter schools should be allowed. The fact that charter schools are not required to comply with state law and that the school board would have no authority to require compliance with the state constitution seems to not matter to either Ferguson or Dorn. This is like saying it is okay for banks to rob from the savings accounts of their depositors as long as the depositors are allowed to have “some control” over some of the money left in their accounts! Locally elected school board members are the “eyes and ears” of the voters. They are the “checks and balances” that insure that the schools are run in a legal and financially sound manner. Publicly elected school boards must have complete control over what happens with public dollars assigned to school districts – not just some control. All “some control” does is open the door for charter school fraud and corruption.

False Claim #4: The State legislature can “fix the problem” simply by funding charter schools from funds not dedicated to public schools
Ferguson and Dorn have stated that, even if charter schools are not normal public schools or common schools, the charter school problem can be easily fixed simply by allowing the state legislature to fund charter schools from an account that is not designated for use by public schools. There are several problems with this claim. First, since 1967, the State legislature has paid for public schools out of the General Fund. It is therefore not possible to separate public school funds from charter school funds. Second, the Supreme Court has found that the legislature is not providing adequate funding for public schools. In fact, public school funding in Washington state is billions of dollars per year below the national average – forcing our students to endure some of the highest class sizes in the nation. Even one dollar spent on charter schools therefore is a dollar taken away from State funding for public schools that is already not adequate. Third, other sections of the State Constitution prohibit public funding going to line the pockets of private corporations. This transfer of funds from public schools to private corporations simply leads to more fraud and corruption. There is no “fix” for the charter school fraud problem. Merely putting organized fraud under the control of OSPI would not solve the problem. Merely having public dollars stolen from a different account would not solve the problem. The only solution is to completely prohibit fraud and corruption by prohibiting the charter school fraud factories.

Conclusion… The only way to “fix the charter school problem” is to replace Randy Dorn and Bob Ferguson with people who will defend our State Constitution and Protect our Public Schools
The drafters of our State Constitution wisely made both the Attorney General and Superintendent of Public Instruction offices elected positions. Every four years, the voters get to choose who should hold these important offices. Both of these offices will be up for re-election in 2016. It is time for citizens who care about our kids, our schools, and the future of our democracy to consider running against Bob Ferguson and Randy Dorn – who have abandoned our kids and our state constitution in their support of charter school fraud factories. It is time to elect people that understand the importance of defending public schools and the danger of allowing wealthy corporations to undermine and destroy our public schools. We look forward to your questions.

Originally published at Coalition to Protect Our Public Schools

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