It is important to note that this bill has nothing to do with school choice or school innovation or even helping the kids who were enrolled in illegal charter schools. School districts are already allowed to create any type of alternative school that complies with our state laws and state constitution. Former charter school kids can attend public schools like any other kids. Parents are allowed to petition school boards to allow their student to attend any school in the school district or move to a different school district or run for the school board and create their own innovative schools. Instead, this Charter School Fix bill is purely about robbing up to one billion dollars per year from public schools and turning these tax payer dollars over to private for profit corporations. One only has to look at how charter schools have turned into fraud factories from California to Florida to New York and Ohio and many other charter school states to understand what the real purpose of charter schools is - it's robbery of tax payer funds pure and simple.
Here is the math. Washington State has about one million public school students. Each student receives about $10,000 in school funding (about $8,000 from the state plus about $2,000 from local levies and federal funding). This is about $3,000 per pupil less than national average of $13,000 per student - which is why Washington state has among the lowest school funding and highest class sizes in the nation. This extremely low level of funding is also why the Washington State Supreme Court has held the state legislature in "Contempt of Court" for failing to comply with their Constitutional "Paramount Duty" to fully fund our public schools.
The total funding for all one million Washington state students is about $10 billion per year. This is $3 billion per year less than the national average - with the difference being diverted into billions of dollars in tax breaks for wealthy corporations like Microsoft and Boeing. If the charter school fix bill were to pass, yet another billion dollars could be siphoned off from public school funding and diverted into charter school fraud factories. Here is the language from the bill: ""A school district board may not approve more than.. ten percent of the total number of public schools in the district as district charter schools." (SB 6163, Page 18) Ten percent of $10 billion is one billion dollars.
The actual amount of the robbery could be much higher because the above figure does not include school construction funds which would also be siphoned off by charter schools. Here is the language from the bill that gives away up to ten percent of school construction funds: "School districts providing facilities that serve district charter school students are eligible for state matching funds for common school construction. District charter school facilities not owned by the school district may request state construction funds through the office of the superintendent of public instruction." (Senate Bill 6163 Page 27)
But a billion dollar loss to students and tax payers is only one of many drawbacks of this 37 page bill. In this report, we will describe the following 12 major drawbacks of the Charter School Fix bill:
#1 The bill violates the "Uniformity" Clause of our State Constitution.
#2 The bill provides no protection for teacher salaries and no protection for class sizes and therefore no protection for students to insure that they receive a quality education.
#3 The bill would expose Washington State Students to Poorly Trained and Inexperienced TFA Teachers
#4 The bill opens the door for deregulation, privatization and corruption of our public schools and our political process.
#5 The bill would transfer oversight of tax payer dollars from a publicly elected school board to a privately appointed group of corporate rubber stampers and transfer waiver of state laws from the state legislature to local school boards - meaning a single corrupt school board could waive many state laws intended to protect children.
#6 Charter Schools Could Use Any Number of School Days, Any Number of School Hours and Any Curriculum
#7 The bill would reduce public meetings and public accountability for parents and tax payers.
#8 The bill would allow state funding to be handed over to private schools for the wealthy.
#9 The bill would provide financial incentives for closing public schools and converting them into for profit charter schools
#10 The Non-profits used in the bill are actually money laundering operations for For Profit Corporations
#11 Increased Flexibility simply means increased Fraud for Charter School Contractors
#12 The bill diverts attention away from the Paramount Duty of the State legislature to provide full funding for our public schools.
Because the "Devil is in the Details" we will go into the details of each of these problems on the following pages. But the bottom line is that the Charter School Fix bill is filled with loopholes and has no protection for students, parents, teachers or tax payers. We urge the public and the legislature to reject the Charter School Fix bill and instead to work on fully funding our real public schools.
#1 The Charter School Fix bill violates the "Uniformity" Clause of our State Constitution.
The Washington State Constitution not only requires the state legislature to fully fund public schools, it also requires the state legislature to provide for a "uniform system" of public schools. Our State Supreme Court has already ruled that the state legislature is in violation of the uniformity clause of the state constitution because current laws create a two tier system of rich school districts that can easily pass local school levies and school bonds thanks to high per pupil property valuations - and poor school districts that cannot pass local school levies and school bonds due to low per pupil property valuations. The charter school fix bill would turn our current two tier system of rich schools and poor schools into a three tier system of rich schools, poor schools and unregulated charter schools that that do not provide protection for teachers and students.
The way to improve our education system is not by exempting some schools from school regulations. Instead, it is by complying with our state constitution and restoring a uniform system of fully funded public schools so that every student has an opportunity to receive a quality education including a fully qualified teacher and low class sizes so that struggling students can get the help they need to succeed in school and succeed in life. Here is a link to Senate Bill 6163 in case you want to read it yourself.
#2 The Charter School Fix bill provides no protection for teacher salaries and no protection for class sizes and therefore no protection for students to insure that they receive a quality education.
The primary way charter schools generate massive profits for their promoters is to hire fake teachers with no actual training or experience and then lower the salary of these fake teachers by paying them peanuts instead of a living wage so that the average charter school teacher quits after one year. A 2015 New Jersey study found that charter school teachers make about $20,000 per year less than public school teachers.
In April 2014, the League of Women Voters of Florida issued a report on fraud of charter schools. The report was shocking. They found that while public schools spent more than 80% of their funds on classroom instruction, charter schools spent barely 40% on classroom instruction. Charter schools spent much less on teachers and much more on overhead costs, management and rental fees. Charter schools had a closure rate of 20% per year. Numerous members of the State legislature benefited directly or indirectly from charter school kickbacks.
Here is the language in the Charter School Fix bill that allows charter schools to have any teachers they want, any class sizes they want and distribute public tax payer dollars in any manner they want:
"This section does not require a district charter school to pay a particular salary to its staff while the staff is employed by the district charter school." (SB 6163 Page 29)
"Any bargaining unit or units established at the district charter school must be limited to employees working in the district charter school and must be separate from other bargaining units in school districts, educational service districts, or institutions of higher education. Any district charter school established under chapter 28A.710 RCW is a separate employer from any school district, including the school district in which it is located..." (SB 6163 Page 30)
"The district charter school board may... Hire, manage, and discharge any district charter school employee in accordance with the terms of this chapter and that school's district charter contract." (SB 6163 Page 5)
The clear goal of such language is to eliminate the right of students to an experienced teacher and the right of teachers to a living wage.
#3 The Charter School Fix bill would expose Washington State Students to Poorly Trained and Inexperienced TFA Teachers
In order to cut costs and increase profits, many charter schools use "TFA Fake Teachers." TFA (Teach for America) recruits recent college graduates, gives them five weeks of “training” - which is really nothing more than a five week pep rally - and then ships them off to school districts nationwide to inflict their lack of training on innocent and often very young students. Just imagine being operated on by a doctor with only 5 weeks of training. Subjecting our kids to fake teachers with only 5 weeks of training is a crime.
How is this even possible?
In the past, both state and federal law regulated who could teach in our public schools. Teachers were required to have years of training in child development, learning theories, and classroom management. They were also required to complete a several month “practice” teaching experience under the guidance of an experienced teacher. After all of this, they were granted a “Provisional Teachers Certificate” which allowed them to teach. But in most states, additional training during several summers was required to get a permanent teachers certificate.
The federal court also ruled that TFA recruits should not be concentrated in districts of high poverty and high disadvantage, where children actually need “highly qualified” teachers, not young college graduates with five weeks to training. For more on this subject, see Renee v. Duncan, decided on September 27, 2010, which struck down Arnie Duncan's crazy regulation that TFA recruits were highly qualified.
All of this changed on December 21, 2010, when state and federal teaching standards laws were changed in order to allow TFA recruits to qualify as “highly qualified” teachers. It should be obvious that a recruit with only five weeks of training can not possibly be “highly qualified.” However, on December 21, 2010, Congress amended federal law to change the definition of “highly qualified to include TFA recruits. This was despite the fact that (or because of the fact that) the federal appeals court in California twice ruled that TFA teachers are not highly qualified.
TFA Cheap, Fake Teachers are a Key Part of the Charter School Scam
TFA’s growth depends on and supports the country’s corrupt charter school movement. TFA teachers are non-union and work for much less than real teachers. They are therefore a key tactic in reducing the cost of teachers if the goal is making money rather than helping kids learn. In 2013, in Connecticut, hundreds of teaching jobs were given to out of state TFA recruits while graduates of Connecticut's 5-Year Teachers College program were not even allowed to apply for these jobs. https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/08/29/how-teach-for-america-recruits-get-preference-for-teaching-jobs/
While a first year salary for a teacher at a traditional unionized school in Chicago is approximately $45,000, the starting salary at many of TFA’s partner charter schools is nearly 30 percent less at $32,000.
Teacher Turnover TFA Fake Teachers versus Real Teachers
A 2010 study found that “more than 50% of TFA teachers leave after two years and more than 80% leave after three years.” By comparison, over 60% of all real teachers - who typically have five years of training – leave after 5 years with most of the remainder staying for more than 10 years. The following chart shows how long TFA recruits remain in the teaching profession.
As a result of the huge turnover of TFA teachers at charter schools, students at TFA fed charter schools are taught by an endless stream of first-year teachers. These students and their TFA fake teachers are doomed to failure. By contrast, this is the experience distribution of real public school teachers using the same scale:
Teacher Salaries are Already Much Lower than Other Professions
Another reason teachers suffer from a much higher turnover than other professions, besides the fact that they are being attacked by billionaires is that are among the lowest paid of all professions.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupation Employment Statistics
#4 The Charter School Fix bill opens the door for deregulation, privatization and corruption of our public schools and our political process.
One of the most shocking sentences in the Charter School Fix bill is the following:
"District charter schools must comply with all state statutes... unless the school district board exempts the district charter school from a statute or rule in the school's district charter contract." (SB 6163 Page 7)
The above loophole would grant any corrupt school board the right to waive any state law intended to protect the rights of students. First, only the legislature has the power to amend a statute and even then it must comply with our state constitution as reviewed by our Supreme Court. No school board should ever be given the power to simply waive state laws. But more to the point, it would be very easy for a Wall Street corporation to start buying school board elections and then have their bought off school board waive every rule that limited their ability to maximize corporate profits.
#5 The Charter School Fix bill would transfer oversight of tax payer dollars from a publicly elected school board to a privately appointed group of rubber stampers.
Here is more language from the Charter School Fix bill explaining how this fraud factory scheme would work: "School district boards of directors may contract with a private nonprofit entity to operate and manage a district charter school...The nonprofit entity shall establish a district charter school board." (SB 6163 Page 10)
So a corporation buys a school board election. The corrupt school board then waives all state laws and makes a contract with the corporation to set up charter schools in the school district. The corporation then appoints its own charter school board with people who do not even have to live in Washington state - much less live in the school district to oversee the corporation. This is like the fox guarding the hen house. Only in this case, it is Wall Street corporations put in charge of guarding one billion dollars in tax payer funds as well as the educational future of 100,000 Washington state students!
But it gets even worse because the elected school board does not have to take any oversight or negotiation action. Instead, the elected school board is allowed to delegate its authority to some person designated by the superintendent of the school district. Here is the shocking language from the Charter School Fix bill: "A school district board may delegate its responsibilities under this section to ((employees or contractors)) the district superintendent or superintendent's designee." (SB 6163 Page 11)
It is likely not legal for either the state legislature, the school board or any other elected person to "delegate" their elected responsibility to some third party. But whether it is legal or not legal, it is certain to lead to fraud and abuse. Delegation of oversight simply means no oversight at all. Perhaps this is why the Charter School Fix bill also includes language letting school board members off the hook for anything bad that may happen as a result of a school board handing their public schools over to private corporations: "Neither a school district board, school district board members in their official capacity, nor the employees of a school district board are liable for acts or omissions of a district charter school they authorize."(SB 6163, Page 12)
#6 Charter Schools Could Use Any Number of School Days, Any Number of School Hours and Any Curriculum
Here is more shocking language in the Charter School Fix bill:
"Charter schools... May be granted flexibility by the local school district board in the following areas and other operational and instructional areas to the extent allowed by this chapter:
(a) Length of school day, including total number of instructional hours provided;
(b) Length of school year, including total number of instructional days provided to students;
(c) Human resources-related issues, including... staffing levels, and the hiring and firing of the district charter school employees...
(d) The curriculum used, with the exception that curriculum and instruction must be free from sectarian or religious influence or control." (SB 6163, Page 5)
Normal public schools require 6 hours of instruction per day for a 180 day school year. But according to this bill, charter schools could have 1 hour of instruction per day for 18 days and call that a school year. (See for example the top of Page 35 which exempts charter schools from providing a minimum number of hours of instruction). In addition, curriculum in normal public schools has to pass a lengthy public review process and a public vote by a publicly elected school board. None of that is needed by the charter school board. They can simply decide to use the curriculum provided by the corporation that hired them - at a huge profit to the corporation - with no public review or opportunity for input by parents or other concerned citizens.
#7 The Charter School Fix bill would reduce public meetings and public accountability for parents and tax payers.
Elected school boards typically hold public meetings at least once a month during which time parents and other concerned citizens can let the school board know about problems in the schools that need to be addressed. If the elected school board does not listen to the parents and do something to fix the problems, there are elections every two years to vote in a new school board that will listen and take action. None of these protections exist with the appointed charter school board. First, the contracts are for seven years - so the charter school fraud can continue for a very long time. Second. the charter school board only needs to meet with the elected school board once per year. Here is the language in the bill: "This meeting requirement must include at least one formal public joint meeting each year between the full membership of the school district board and the district charter school board." (SB 6163 Page 7)
Note that there is no mention during this one meeting a year for the public to provide input.
#8 The Charter School Fix bill would allow state funding to be handed over to private schools for the wealthy
Here is some more shocking language from the bill: "A district charter school may enter into a contract with a school district or other public or private entity to provide transportation for the students of the district charter school." (SB 6163, Page 26)
Note that the charter school does not need to use public school buses to transport students back and forth to the charter school. They could hire any private entity including any for profit corporation to transport the students. Let's say that a certain wealthy person (Bill Gates) decided to buy the elections to gain control over the Seattle School Board. The Seattle School Board could then write a contract with the Lakeside School to turn it into a public charter school. The Lakeside School could then hire its own private limousines to take the kids of the very wealthy to and from their private schools - all paid for by Washington state tax payers! This may seem like an unlikely possibility. But a review of "Alternative Learning Experience" programs by the State Auditor found that the majority of them had mis-used tax payer founds including paying for horseback riding lessons, ski trips and even remodeling a church. Opening up the door to the public paying for private "charter" schools and private corporations is certain to lead to fraud and abuse on a massive scale.
#9 The Charter School Fix bill would provide financial incentives for closing public schools and converting them into for profit charter schools
Here are a couple more quotes from the bill:
"Through district contracts between the district charter school and the locally elected school board, it is the intent that the district charter schools be afforded autonomous elements similar to traditional charter schools, such as freedom from designated school district policies and greater responsibility to manage their own budgets, design their own school plans, and select their own staff."
(SB 6163 Page 2)
"Conversion district charter school" means a district charter school created by converting an existing non-charter public school in its entirety to a district charter school." (SB 6163 Page 3)
Put in plain English, school boards would be given the unrestricted right to convert up to ten percent of existing public schools into private schools. So all a corporation would have to do to take over public schools is find a cash starved school district (or which there are many in Washington state) and make them an offer they can't refuse. Give us ten percent of your schools and we will give you some extra cash.
Something similar to this has already happened in at least three school districts in Washington state - with disastrous results for students. Both the Omak and Quilcene School Districts have entered into "Alternative Learning Experience" contracts with the Wall Street scam corporation, K12 INC to set up fake online schools. K12 INC then does massive advertising programs using a pack of lies to convince parents to transfer their kids to these fake schools. For example, the Quilcene School District has 204 "resident" students who live in the district and 349 "non-resident" students who live outside of the district and take their courses online from K12 INC. Many of these students actually live in Tacoma which is where the K12 INC recruitment office is located. But instead of being counted as students of the Tacoma School District, they are counted as if they lived in Forks on the Olympic Peninsula.
The result of the K12 INC takeover of this public school program has been a turnover of students and teachers of over 50% per year and a graduation rate of only 22% - destroying the lives of thousands of mostly low income students.
Huge Declines in Test Scores on Washington State Standardized Tests
The test scores of WAVA/K12 INC students are much lower than the Washington State average. (Source OSPI Report Card, Omak SD, WAVA schools)
2011-2012 WAVA students % Passed compared to the State Average
What is the average graduation rate of K12 INC online students?
According to OSPI, the 2012 Graduation rate for WAVA was only 22%. The Washington State average graduation rate is 75%. In Colorado, the average graduation rate of K12 INC online students was only 20%. In Ohio, the K12 INC graduation rate was 30%. By comparison the average graduation rate for all students in Colorado is about 72%. In Ohio, it is 78%. Below is a chart showing the two year graduate rate of several K12 online schools compared to the average high school graduation rates in the same state:
More recently, the Mary Walker School District, a small school district in Eastern Washington that is in deep financial trouble and has on multiple times in the past been cited by the State Auditor for violations, has been enticed into taking in several of the charter school operations under the "Alternative Learning Experiences" loophole. Overnight this has more than doubled the number of students attending school in the Mary Walker school district even though none of the new students or their teachers actually live in the Mary Walker school district. Allowing such an arrangement is a slap in the face to our State Supreme Court which ruled that the charter schools are unconstitutional and could not receive state funds. This is the same school district that used state tax payer funds intended for public schools to remodel a church!
The Washington State Auditor recently issued a report on these Alternative Learning Experience programs and found that they cost the state about $148 million annually. Meanwhile, the on-time graduation rate for thousands of ALE students was only 32%. Instead of expanding opportunities for Wall Street corporations to rip off our kids and our schools, we should be looking at shutting down these fraud factories.
#10 The "Non-profits" used in the Charter School Fix bill are actually money laundering operations for For Profit Corporations
Senate Bill 6163 tries to fool legislators and the public into thinking that charter schools would only be run by "Non-profits." Here is the language in the bill:
"(Charter School) "Applicant" means a nonprofit corporation that has submitted an application to... the school district in which the district charter school is to be located. The nonprofit corporation must be either a public benefit nonprofit corporation... The nonprofit corporation may not be a sectarian or religious organization and must meet all of the requirements for a public benefit nonprofit corporation before receiving any funding." (SB 6163 Page 2)
However, in December, 2014, areport was published called When Charter Schools are Nonprofit in Name Only which explains in detail many ways in which public tax payer dollars are funneled from fake non-profits to for profit corporations. This report described the common practice of charter schools pretending to be “non-profits” only to sweep all of the money out of the fake non-profit front group and into the pockets of private for profit “management” corporations. These “sweep” contracts divert nearly all of the charter school's public dollars to for profit corporations – with very little left to actually run the charter schools. Once the public money goes into the black hole of a private corporation, there is no way to keep track of how it is actually spent. Here is a quote from the report: “It can be hard for regulators and even schools themselves to follow the money when nearly all of it goes into the accounts of a private company... "We can't audit the (private) management company," said Brian Butry, a spokesman for New York Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.”
Here is a diagram of how this money laundering operation works:
#11 Increased Flexibility simply means increased Fraud for Charter School Contractors
How are charter schools working out in other states? The result of deregulation has been a tidal wave of fraud, abuse and corruption. Here is an estimate from the Pennsylvania State Auditor. Combined with $140 million sucked out of Pennsylvania by gold digger poorly performing charter schools and the total loss to Pennsylvania tax payers is more than $300 million per year. https://thenotebook.org/blog/125416/pa-auditor-general-blasts-cyber-charter-funding-again/
A National Charter School Corporate Crime Wave
In May 2014, the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education issued a report called Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud And Abuse. This report concluded that fraudulent charter operators in 15 states were responsible for losing, misusing or wasting over $100 million in taxpayer money per year. https://integrityineducation.org/charter-fraud/
Since there are actually charter schools in 45 States, it is likely that the total fraud and abuse of tax payers funds by charter schools exceeds $300 million per year. The report contains news stories, criminal records, and other documents to detail abuses such as charter school operators embezzling funds, using tax dollars to illegally support other, non-educational businesses, taking public dollars for services they didn’t provide, inflating their enrollment numbers to boost revenues, and putting children in potential danger by foregoing safety regulations or withholding services. These are only a few specific examples of the thousands of cases of fraud involving charter schools nationwide.
Here is a quote from the report: “Our examination, which focused on 15 large charter markets, found fraud, waste, and abuse cases totaling over $100 million in losses to taxpayers. Despite rapid growth in the charter school industry, no agency, federal or state, has been given the resources to properly oversee it. Given this inadequate oversight, we worry that the fraud and mismanagement that has been uncovered thus far might be just the tip of the iceberg.”
Charter School Fraud in Ohio...
Ohio has about 400 charter schools affecting more than 120,000 children. Ohio seems to be the nation's leader in charter school corruption which is why we have saved them for last. In 2013, an Ohio man and his brother plead guilty to an alleged $1.8 million charter school fraud in Cleveland. Both were sentenced to one year probation. Also in 2013, in a similar case, prosecutors charged a charter school operator of diverting at least $1.2 million dollars in public funds away from his charter school and into other businesses and multiple homes. In 2014, the judge gave the operator 5 years of probation. https://www.cleveland.com/court-justice/index.ssf/2014/02/lion_of_judah_charter_school_o.html
In another case, a charter school treasurer plead guilty to stealing $470,000 from 4 Ohio charter schools. The funds were supposed to be used for the education of students at four charter schools in Columbus, Youngstown and Dayton between 2005 and 2011, according to the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.
In 2013, 19 charter schools closed in the State of Ohio, joining 150 other charter schools in Ohio that had already been shut down since 2005. With about 400 total charter schools in Ohio, that is a failure rate of over 40 percent!
"$1.4 billion has been spent since 2005 through school year 2012-2013 on charter schools that have never gotten any higher grade than an F or a D,"
As in Florida and many other "charter school" states, charter schools are closing at a record rate in Ohio and sticking tax payers with the bill
Charter schools are closing in Ohio at a record rate after a series of fraud cases were uncovered. The tax payers are left to pick up the pieces and the kids suffer the loss of their schools and their education.
Charter schools are funded by the state on the backs of school districts and taxpayers. Because charter schools are exempt from most state laws and do not have a publicly elected school board, there is almost no oversight of spending at charter schools. Over $900 million dollars per year is diverted away from public schools to charter schools in Ohio every year. But the bill doesn't stop there. When there is financial mismanagement, charter schools can be closed. But it is almost impossible to get the money invested in charter schools back. Nearly $187 million in tax money spent on failed charter schools is still uncollected.
The only solution to corruption and fraud is to not allow private corporations to make profits off of public schools. The only way this will happen is to ban charter schools.
#12 The Charter School Fix bill diverts attention away from the Paramount Duty of the State legislature to provide full funding for our public schools.
This is the most disturbing part of the Charter School Fix bill. The State legislature has already been found in "Contempt of Court" for failing to comply with their Paramount Duty under the Washington state Constitution to fully fund our real public schools. As we noted earlier, it would take $3 billion in additional state revenue just to bring school funding in Washington state up to the national average and lower class sizes in Washington state down to the national average.
The real problem faced by our schools is that our class sizes are way too large.
According to the National Center for Education Statistics Schools and Staffing Survey (Table 8), Washington State has the third highest class sizes in the nation for elementary school, the second highest class sizes in the nation for middle school and the second highest class sizes in the nation for high school. https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/sass/tables/sass1112_2013314_t1s_007.asp
For Grades 7 through 12, the national average class size is 27 students and the average class size in Washington state is 30 students.https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d13/tables/dt13_209.30.asp
Here is a distribution of class sizes showing which states have low, average, above average or extremely high class sizes:
In 2009, our state legislature passed the “Education Reform Act” promising to restore school funding to the national average by 2018. However, they failed to provide any funding to actually keep this promise.
On June 29, 2015, the Washington State legislature passed a “Band Aid” budget that providesless than$700 million per year in additional school funding. This is less than $700 per pupil per year. This proposal only brings per pupil annual funding to about $8,300. It would take more than $3 billion per year in additional funding annually just to restore school funding in our state to the national average – with another $2 to $3 billion annually to restore school repair and construction funding to the national average.
Alan Krueger, Chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, estimated that every dollar invested in reducing class sizes yielded about $2 in long term economic benefits. https://etec511.wikispaces.com/file/view/economic+considerations+and+class+size.pdf
Lowering Class Sizes Would Also Require More than $30 Billion in New School Construction
Sadly, not only has our legislature failed to provide adequate funds for operating schools, but they have also failed to supply funds for the repair and building of schools. For more than two decades, our legislature has refuses to pay more than a small fraction of the cost of building and repairing schools.
Whereas our State legislature historically provided more than 66% of the actual construction costs of public schools, State funding has fallen to below 10% of actual costs during the past 20 years. Instead, the Washington state legislature shifted the responsibility for building and repairing schools onto the backs of local homeowners. This led to more than 11 billion dollars in school bond failures during the past 11 years.
When billions of dollars in school bonds go down to defeat, school districts are forced to buy temporary portable boxes to use as classrooms. According to a 2008 report by the Washington State Auditor, these portable classrooms cost more than twice as much to heat and maintain as real classrooms. “The most energy-efficient portables cost about 2.5 times as much to heat, cool and light compared to permanent school buildings.”
Performance Audit Report 1000013 Page 21.
Despite the huge long term cost of portables, the number of permanent school buildings has plunged while the number of portable school buildings has skyrocketed. Fewer permanent classrooms were built in 2005 to 2014 than at any point in the past 30 years.
As a result of the failure to build new schools, Washington State has one of the highest rates of unhoused students in the nation at 10%. This means 100,000 students in Washington State are forced to spend their school days in temporary structures rather than real school buildings. It would take more than $20 billion just to build urgently needed schools for these 100,000 students plus the 40,000 new student spots needed for full day Kindergarten plus tens of thousands more schools needed to lower class sizes down to the national average. But instead, the 2015 legislature completely ignored this problem providing only $200 per student for school construction in the 2015 capital budget.
Public School Building Health... A Hidden Crisis!
In addition to building new schools, we should also insure the health and safety of existing public schools. Sadly, our state faces a school repair backlog that exceeds more than $10 billion and is certain to be endangering the health of our students. Nearly all buildings are subject to building codes which are regulations intended to insure the safety of occupants. Building codes are revised about every three years. The only buildings exempt from these rules are public schools. In order to keep the construction and repair cost of school buildings down, safety codes for public schools have not been revised in nearly 40 years (since 1971).
Lead exposure in childhood is known to result in reduced brain size, increased aggression, and a greater likelihood of criminality as a teen and adult. The Department of Health estimates that 30% of schools in Washington have drinking water levels that exceed 20 PPBB for lead. This problem occurs mainly in older crumbling schools that are also structurally unsound. It has been estimated that improving indoor air quality would reduce asthma rates by 20% saving our State more than $2 billion a year in health costs as well as greatly improve academic performance.
This means that the buildings school children are required to spend their days in are the least safe buildings in our State. About half of all schools in Washington State fail to meet the health codes or the earthquake codes.
When we add the $10 billion school health problem to the $23 billion school construction backlog, the total school construction and repair backlog appears to be over $30 billion. However, this does not include the biggest cost of all – rebuilding over half of our dangerous 50 year old schools to prepare for the next major earthquake. This will cost more than $28 billion. However, since it is the older schools that suffer from both health problems and structural problems, the total bill to upgrade every school in our state to the current building and health codes could be as high as $50 billion.
But instead of dealing with these huge problems that affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of children, the 2015 capital budget only provided $440 per student for school construction and repair.
Here is a chart of Washington School Construction funding during the past 10 years.
Yet despite these massive and urgent problems affecting the lives of one million students, there has only been ONE BILL submitted in the Washington state legislature that would generate the billions of dollars needed to actually reduce class sizes down to the national average and provide our students with the safe schools they deserve. That bill was Senate Bill 6093 sponsored by Senators Chase and McAuliffe - which would provide more than $3 billion per year in annual revenue by repealing a 1997 tax break used by the very wealthy to avoid paying their fair share of state taxes.
Are tax breaks for the wealthy really more important than the lives of half a million students? It is time to start requiring billionaires to pay their fair share of state taxes so we can finally address the school construction backlog here in Washington state. As always, we look forward to your questions and comments.
David Spring M. Ed.
Coalition to Protect Our Public Schools