Archives for category: Washington State

Bill Gates struggled for years to bring charter schools to Washington State, over the opposition of parent groups, teachers, and civil rights organizations. He lost three state referenda, but won the fourth—barely—by blitzing voters with a multimillion dollar campaign that the opponents could not match.

Be careful what you want. First a CREDO report found that the charters did not outperform the much-maligned public schools.

Now a state audit reports that charters in Seattle and Tacoma are breaking the law by hiring uncertified teachers.

Teachers who lacked proper accreditation taught at charter schools in Seattle and Tacoma, in violation of state rules. This was discovered through an audit; State Auditor Pat McCarthy called these findings “unprecedented.”

The state audit found that Summit Sierra and Summit Atlas, schools in Seattle, and Summit Olympus, a school in Tacoma, received nearly $4 million in funding related to the positions, which may now need to be repaid…

The auditor’s office estimated that Summit schools received $3.89 million in state funding more than it should have related to the teaching positions filled by uncertificated staff.

In a formal response to the audit findings, an attorney for Summit Public Schools challenged all of them, and the state’s repayment calculations.

“It is simply not the case that a person is only qualified to teach under Washington law if he or she has a state-issued teacher certificate,” wrote attorney David Stearns.

The auditors, Stearns wrote, failed “to recognize the explicit exception to the teacher certification requirement that applies to charter schools.”

Jessica de Barros, interim executive director of the Washington State Charter School Commission, which authorizes and oversees Summit Public Schools, disagreed.

“All public charter schools are required to employ certificated teachers,” de Barros said. “The Commission supports full compliance with all of the audit recommendations,” including repayment of inappropriately-granted state dollars.

“We have since strengthened our systems to ensure these inadvertent reporting issues will not happen again,” said Kate Gottfredson, spokesperson for Summit Public Schools. “We will work with the [Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction] to develop an appropriate plan to address the findings.”

It is not clear why the spokesperson for the charter chain thought the problem was a “reporting issue,” not a breaking-the-law issue.

Laurel Demkovich writes here about the election in Washington State for state superintendent. The incumbent Chris Reykdal faces a challenger who supports charter schools and vouchers. The Democratic Party is supporting Reykdal, the Republican Party is supporting his opponent, Maia Espinosa. Washington State has no voucher program; it has a small number of charters, established after four state referenda that were funded by Bill Gates and his billionaire friends. The only evaluation of the charters, by CREDO at Stanford, concluded that they did not get different results than similar students in public schools.

I strongly urge the voters in Washington State to vote for Reykdal.

Demkovich writes:

With less than a week before Election Day, partisan ties in the nonpartisan superintendent of public instruction race have become clear.

Incumbent Chris Reykdal, backed by the state Democratic Party, is facing challenger Maia Espinoza, backed by the state Republican Party, for his spot as the state’s chief schools official.

Worried they might lose control of education policy if Reykdal loses, prominent Democrats, including Gov. Jay Inslee and U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal, held a news conference this week to “sound the alarm” on Espinoza’s plans they say would cut funding to public schools.

Jayapal called Espinoza the “Betsy DeVos of Washington” – referring to the Secretary of Education’s support for school choice and voucher programs.

The state Democratic Party has donated $105,000 into Reykdal’s campaign in the last week.

Republicans and Espinoza want to return to the status quo and not upend public schools, state GOP Rep. Drew Stokesbary said in a news conference.

“Why is anybody afraid of a Hispanic mother of three who cares about kids across the state as our superintendent of public instruction?” added state Sen. Mark Schoesler, of Ritzville. “This would be a superintendent of public instruction that is not a slave to the union bosses.”

Meanwhile, the state Republican Party contributed $10,000 to Espinoza in the past week.

Accusations from both sides about the other candidate’s plan and background have circulated throughout the campaign, but what’s true? The Spokesman-Review took a look.

Claim: Espinoza’s plans for a COVID-19 relief package for parents would drain $2.5 billion from public school funds.

Source: Inslee, Jayapal and other Democrats at a Monday news conference.

Truthfulness: Could be true, but Espinoza said she doesn’t have a specific plan for where the money would come from.

Analysis: Democrats claimed Monday that Espinoza would cut public school funding by $2.5 billion. The claim likely comes from Espinoza’s proposal early in the pandemic to give parents $2,500 per student, which she said would help with technology costs or supplies.

Inslee argued Monday the cut would result in a loss of funding of teachers and negatively affect class sizes. “This is inexcusable in our state,” he said.

Espinoza admitted she was not sure where the money for the stipends would come from and that it would ultimately be up to the Legislature. She did suggest school districts look at ways they are not spending money as students are not in school, such as on transportation or utilities.

The funding could look different in each district, she said.

“I firmly believe the dollars belong to the students, not the system,” Espinoza said.

Claim: Espinoza supports school choice and voucher programs.

Source: Inslee, Jayapal and other Democrats at a Monday news conference

Truthfulness: True.

Analysis: Espinoza has been open about supporting school choice, something she said would improve inequities in school districts. She hasn’t been clear, however, on what that would look like.

Democrats accused Espinoza of supporting what Jayapal called a “corrupt and very dangerous DeVos-Trump privatization agenda.”

Espinoza said she has no affiliation with what’s happening federally and does not have any support from DeVos or Trump. She said she does support school choice, however, adding she does not think giving parents options is bad.

She told the Associated Press she supports more funding for charter schools, as well as testing a broader private school voucher system statewide.

“Parents will always choose what is best for their kid,” she told The Spokesman-Review in June.

Claim: Espinoza has a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction.

Source: Espinoza voters guide statement

Truthfulness: Mostly false, as of now.

Analysis: In her voters guide statement for both the primary and the general elections, Espinoza claimed to have a master’s degree from Western Governors University, an online program. She does not include the year she received it.

Espinoza has recently come out to say she is finishing up the degree now, after Reykdal repeatedly claimed she did not yet have it. In a Monday news conference, Espinoza said the term ends at the end of this month and her thesis has been turned in.

In a Washington State Wire virtual debate on Sept. 17, Espinoza said she had finished all of her classes and only needed to finish her thesis. At the time, she called it a “nonissue.”

At a League of Women Voters virtual debate from Oct. 6, Reykdal said he had concerns about Espinoza’s lack of transparency.

Claim: Espinoza’s organization, the Center for Latino Leadership, is a nonprofit with 501©3 tax exemption.

Source: Center for Latino Leadership website

Truthfulness: False.

Analysis: The Center for Latino Leadership, which Espinoza founded, claims on its website to be “an incorporated, nonprofit organization in Washington State operating under section 501©3 of the Internal Revenue Code.”

The organization does not actually have the federal tax-exempt status, according to the Associated Press.

The tax exemption allows public charities that serve the public interest to be exempt from paying federal income tax and to collect tax-deductible contributions from donors. Those organizations are then prohibited from making profits or participating in expressly political activities.

Espinoza told the Associated Press she never claimed donations were tax deductible and that the organization has been trying to apply for 501©3 status for years but had issues with its accounting firm.

“It’s been a process for sure, but we’ve been diligent in operating as a C3,” Espinoza said in an email to the Associated Press.

In a Monday news conference, she told reporters the 501©3 status is just a stricter form of a nonprofit but her organization has always acted as if they have the tax-exemption.

“This has nothing to do with the great work we’ve done,” she said. “In no way have I misrepresented.”

Claim: Espinoza is a teacher.

Source: Espinoza’s voters guide statement.

Truthfulness: Only if you use a broader definition of “teacher.”

Analysis: Espinoza, who states in her voters guide statement that she is a school teacher, is not a licensed teacher, but she did previously teach music at her daughter’s private school one day a week for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

When asked about her teaching experience in an Oct. 12 debate, Espinoza said she was a paid, hourly teacher.

“I really got to experience and appreciate the demands put on teachers,” Espinoza said.

Laurel Demkovich’s reporting for The Spokesman-Review is funded in part by Report for America and by members of the Spokane community. This story can be republished by other organizations for free under a Creative Commons license. For more information on this, please contact our newspaper’s managing editor.

Washington State has experienced a long history of turmoil over charter schools.

It has held four state referenda over whether they should be allowed in the state. They are opposed by school boards, teachers’ unions, PTAs, and civil rights groups.

Bill Gates and his billionaire clique really wanted the state to have charter schools. So in 2012, they amassed a war chest and outspent the parents, teacher’s, and civil rights groups by a ratio of 17-1. The referendum passed by 1%.

Then the state’s highest court declared that charter schools are not public schools and can’t draw from the public school fund, because they don’t have elected school boards.

Next step, Gates and his friends spend big money to defeat the state court judges that opposed charter schools, but the justices won anyway.

So Gates’ surrogates go to the legislature and seek to get lottery money to support the charters that Bill wants so badly. Eager to please one of the state’s richest people (Bezos is the richest), the legislature dedicates the lottery to Bill’s charters.

After a few years, Gates commissions a CREDO evaluation of his charters, and CREDO says they don’t get different results than the state’s public schools.

Meanwhile, some of the charters close because of low enrollment.

But undaunted, Bill Gates presses forward.

Last week, Governor Jay Inslee signed bipartisan legislation to make sure that the Washington State Charter School Association could hire an e ecutive director and other staff.

Questions: since the charter schools serve no public purpose, why should the state pay for the employees of their lobby? Since the charters don’t get better results than public schools, why are they needed? Since the whole charter sector is tiny and ineffective, why doesn’t Gates pay for it himself?

Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill Wednesday that Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, sponsored to enhance administration capabilities at state charter schools.

House Bill 2853 will allow the Washington State Charter School Commission to hire an executive director and other employees.

The House and Senate approved the bill by large bipartisan majorities.

Harris did not attend Wednesday’s bill signing due to the novel coronavirus outbreak, but he put out a statement applauding the action.

“I’m very happy for our charter schools,” he said. “I believe every school in Washington, whether it’s public, private or chartered, deserves the opportunity to be successful. When our schools are successful, our kids are successful.”

Makes sense. The public must fund the charter lobbyists so that charter schools get more money. Don’t expect Gates to pay for his hobby, even though his net worth is more than $100 billion.

A reader sent this notice from Washington State:


As of March 13, state assessments are canceled statewide for the remainder of the 2020 school year. These include: Smarter Balanced Assessments (English Language Arts and Math) for grades 3–8 and 10; Washington Access to Instruction and Measurement (WA-AIM) English Language Arts and Math for grades 3–8 and 10; English Language Proficiency Assessment (ELPA21); Washington Comprehensive Assessment of Science for grades 5, 8, and 11; Washington Access to Instruction and Measurement (WA-AIM) Science for grades 5, 8, and 11; WIDA Alternate ACCESS for English learners; and WaKIDS for Transitional Kindergarten.

Governor Jay Inslee closed the public schools across Washington State until at least April 27.

Inslee said schools must close by the end of Monday and will remain closed through at least April 24. The earliest possible date students could return to class would be April 27, Inslee said.
The closures will affect more than 1.2 million students.

Standardized testing will likely be suspended.

That’s putting matters into perspective.


Do you remember the prolonged battle over charter schools in Washington State? There were four referenda in the state, starting in the late 1990s, and the pro-charter forces lost the first three. On the fourth try, in 2012, Bill Gates and his friends bundled millions of dollars to buy the election. They outspent civil rights groups, PTAs, and teacher associations by a margin of 16 to 1. Sixteen to one!

And Gates and friends won the election by about 1% of the vote. Then the losing side appealed to the state courts to block charter funding, which would divert money from the state’s underfunded public schools. The State Supreme Court ruled that charter schools are not “common schools,” as defined in the state constitution, because their boards are not elected. Thus, charters are not eligible to take money from the public school, fund.

Gates and friends then waged a campaign to defeat the Supreme Court judges who ruled against them, but they were re-elected despite the money thrown into the coffers of the candidates who opposed them.

Gates then put pressure on the Legislature to fund his charters. After much lobbying, the Legislature gave lottery money to sustain the billionaire’s charters (surely, you don’t expect Bill Gates to fund them himself!)

Governor Jay Inslee decided bravely not to take a stand. He neither signed nor vetoed the law diverting lottery money to support charter schools, and the law was enacted.

Gates spent millions more encouraging charters to open.

(This story, with all the details, the data, and the footnotes, is included in my new book, SLAYING GOLIATH, which will be published on January 21, 2020.)

However, it turns out that there is not a lot of demand for charters. Three closed this year due to low enrollments, which made them financially unsound.

Just this week, another charter announced that it was closing, due to dwindling enrollments and staff flight.

The Charter was approved in 2018, opened in August 2019, and is now closing.

Ashé Preparatory Academy welcomed its inaugural class of 140 students in kindergarten, first, second and sixth grades when it opened in August. Within four years, the school hoped to grow to more than 400 studentsacross grades K-8.

But within a month of opening, several staff quit or stopped showing up to work. And by Oct. 4, the day the school’s oversight board voted unanimously to close the school, enrollment had been sliced in half. Ashé’s last day of classes was Friday…

But this fall, the school’s ambitious mission was quickly overshadowed by practical problems in the classrooms. Ashé (pronounced ah-SHAY) relied on an “inclusive” classroom model, which means that students with special needs and those with advanced abilities worked alongside their peers. Teaching all levels of students can be tough for any teacher, Sullivan said, but this was particularly true for staff new to the profession.

About six of the school’s nine teachers and paraprofessionals were new, she said. In hindsight, she added, she should have hired a full-time instructional coach to aid junior staff members. The school’s principal and several staff could not be reached for comment.

On Sept. 24, the school’s oversight board held an emergency meeting after three staff resigned or stopped coming to work, meeting minutes suggest. One option the board discussed: Stop serving sixth graders.

The board convened again three days later; at that meeting, staff pleaded for more help. A first-grade teacher asked for more professional coaching, and a sixth-grade paraeducator remarked that similar calls by sixth-grade staff had gone unanswered.

Then more staff resigned and students left, too. By Oct. 1, just 90 students were enrolled, according to board-meeting minutes. And by Oct. 4, enrollment sank to 70 students.

Charter schools in Washington are publicly funded, but privately run. Sullivan said Ashé raised close to $1 million in grants and was also eligible for state funding based on the number of students enrolled. Because so many students left, the school was expected to run a $700,000 deficit this year.

The fledgling charter-school movement in Washington has grown in fits and starts. Nine are still operating, and several have plans to open over the next few years. This month, a state charter-schools nonprofit won nearly $20 million from the federal government to help new charters get off the ground. But three charters have closed this year — and with the closure of Ashé, charter-school advocates and officials say they intend to take a hard look at what went wrong.

Good old Betsy DeVos to the rescue, giving $20 million in federal funds to open new charters in a state where there is little demand for charters.

One other interesting side note: CREDO analyzed charter performance in Washington State based on three years of data and determined that there was no difference overall between charter schools and public schools.

The findings of this study show that on average, charter students in Washington State experience annual growth in reading and math that is on par with the educational gains of their matched peers who enroll in the traditional public schools (TPS) the charter school students would otherwise have attended.

Question: If both sectors get about the same results, why did Bill Gates spend millions of dollars to open a privately managed sector? Was it sheer vanity?


Give Bill Gates credit for persistence. He wanted charter schools in Washington State and he wouldn’t give up. The state held four referendums about whether to authorize private charter schools, and the idea was defeated time after time after time. Until 2012. Gates and his billionaire buddies raised a multimillion dollar war chest that completely overwhelmed the opposition of the PTAs, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, the Washington Education Association, and a long list of civil rights and good government groups.

And in 2012, the referendum passed by less than 1%, bought and paid for by Gates and friends. The opposition sued, and the state’s highest court ruled that charter schools are not public schools because they do not meet the State Constitution’s definition of a “common school,” which is governed by an elected board.

Gates then put up money to try to defeat the judges who ruled against his beloved charters, but they were re-elected.

Then he went to the Legislature and through his surrogates, persuaded the lawmakers to pass a bill to use lottery money to fund Bill Gates’ charters. He could have easily paid for them himself, but he wanted the public to pay.

A dozen or so were quickly set up, some of which were recruited by Gates and given seed money.

And so the bold experiment began.

Things went badly quickly. First, the Walton-funded CREDO from Stanford University evaluated the charters and found that overall they did not get better results from public schools.

Recently, some of the fledgling charters folded because of low enrollments.

Read this equivocal editorial in the Tacoma News Tribune, which alternates between acknowledging the disappointing performance of Tacoma charters, the closure of two of them, the good performance of one, blaming the Legislature for failing to provide facilities funding (why not blame Bill Gates?), reminding readers that “the voters” approved charters, but not reminding them that Gates for the vote and it passed by a hair.

This editorial board once called charter schools a “bold experiment,” but even we need to remember that kids aren’t lab rats; when we experiment with schools, we experiment with kids’ futures. The stakes are high.

Joe Hailey, board chairman of Green Dot Public Schools Washington, the nonprofit charter that ran Destiny Middle School, told the News Tribune that lack of access to local levy funding meant a “permanent structural deficit for our schools.” In other words, with a large funding gap, Destiny Middle School was destined to fail.

Hailey is right. Without levy funding, charters compete with one hand tied behind their backs. If the paramount duty of the state is to educate every child, that’s not happening. Instead of being all-in on charter schools, we’re only half-in, and guess who suffers?

Why didn’t Bill Gates warn voters that they would have to pay facilities funding? Come to think of it, why doesn’t he buy a building for each of the charters, since he wanted them so badly? This would be only crumbs off his table.

Due to the opposition of the teachers’ union and lack of facilities funding, Tacoma’s charters are doing poorly:

Opponents — the Washington Education Association being one of the loudest — have launched lawsuits and a hostile public relations campaign against these voter-approved schools. To counter their claims, charters have to prove themselves by meeting higher benchmarks for success, and at least in Tacoma, that didn’t happen.

Third graders In Tacoma’s SOAR Academy had reading and math scores 28 to 34 percentage points lower than their Tacoma Public School cohorts, and now, due to the school’s closure, some of those students will have to go back into the local district and compete with students who may be miles ahead in terms of academic performance.

With results like that, the WEA needs no PR campaign.

Why was anyone so gullible as to believe that entrepreneurs would be better at running schools than professional educators?

Ask Bill Gates.


Only Bill Gates knows how many millions he has poured into getting charters authorized and funded by the state in Washington State. There have been four referendums, the last one in 2012, which passed by about one percent, over the opposition of civil rights groups, unions, and PTAs. Gates and friends (Jeff Bezos’ parents, Waltons, and assorted billionaires) outspent the grassroots groups by several multiples, and at last Gates got charters past the voters. Then the Washington State Supreme Court said that charters are not public schools as defined in the state constitution, so Gates’s friends, led by Jonah Edelman and Stand for Children of Oregon, funded an effort to defeat the naughty justices at the next election. Happily, they were re-elected.

But Gates would not give up. He went to the Legislature and persuaded his friends to fund the charters with lottery money. The Governor Jay Inslee dared not stand up to the richest man in the state, and he neither signed nor vetoed the legislation, allowing it to become law.

When civilrights groups sued, because the charter schools were back to the public trough, the Supreme Court decided not to alienate the multibillionaire Gates again, and they decided to let the charters have lottery money.

Voila! Gates had charters and public money to pay for them.

But oh no, they are struggling, despite the fact that Gates handed out millions more to lure charter operators to open schools.

The Charter-friendly Seattle Times reports:

Two charter schools — one in Kent and another in Tacoma — will shut down at the end of this academic year, bringing the total number of closures to four since the publicly funded but privately run schools first opened in Washington state five years ago.

The board of directors for Green Dot Public Schools voted Thursday to shut down the two schools, which they oversee: Excel Public Charter School in Kent and Destiny Middle School in Tacoma. The Washington State Charter Association, in a news release, attributed the closures to dwindling enrollment.

The news comes five months after Soar Academy in Tacoma announced that it would close at the end of this school year. The school cited financial constraints.

“Both of these schools (in Kent and Tacoma) experienced significant struggles tied closely to low student enrollment and related operational challenges,” the charter-schools group said in its release.

The Kent and Tacoma schools received a charter, or contract, from the state to enroll up to 600 students. But enrollment data from Green Dot show the Kent campus reached a peak enrollment of  188 as of October 2018. In Tacoma, Destiny reached a peak enrollment of 281 during the 2017-18 school year but tumbled to 162 students as of October.

Across Washington, a dozen charter schools enroll about 3,300 students — a fraction of the 1.1 million students enrolled in public schools statewide.

Figure it out. What did Gates and spend? How many millions to ensure that 3,300 students could attend charters?

When CREDO evaluated the tiny number of charters, it concluded that on average they were no better or worse than public schools.

The findings of this study show that on average, charter students in Washington State experience annual growth in reading and math that is on par with the educational gains of their matched peers who enroll in the traditional public schools (TPS) the charter school students would otherwise have attended. 


Poor Bill Gates. He has poured billions into reinventing education, and nothing has worked. Nothing! Not even in his home state.

One of his fondest desires was to open charter schools in Washington State. He poured millions into a referendum (the fourth in the state), and it barely passed. Then the highest court in the state said the charters couldn’t be supported by the general fund, because they are not really public schools. Public schools have elected boards. At last, he gently persuaded the legislature to tap into the lottery money to pay for Bill’s charters.

But, as Carol Burris writes, the charters did not outperform public schools and did not close achievement gaps.

Oh, woe. Poor Bill!

Burris writes:

“The 2012 initiative was Washington State’s fourth charter school ballot initiative. The previous three attempts failed — in 1996 (64.43 percent opposed to 35.57 percent in favor), 2000 (51.83 percent opposed to 48.17 percent in favor), and 2004 (58.3 percent opposed to 41.7 percent in favor).

“The fourth and final attempt was not pushed by the parents of Washington State. It was pushed and funded by billionaires. The collection of signatures to get the charter initiative on the ballot was a well-coordinated effort that cost nearly $2.5 million.

“Funders of the initiative included Microsoft founder Bill Gates (who contributed over $1 million) and California billionaire Reed Hastings of Netflix. A dark-money group based in New York — Education Reform Now Advocacy, an arm of Democrats for Education Reform (DFER) — contributed large sums as well.

“Without the financial push by billionaires both within and outside the state, the initiative, which barely passed on the fourth attempt, would likely have failed, as did the three previous efforts.

“Let’s fast forward to 2019. What was the outcome for all of those millions contributed allegedly on students’ behalf?

“The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, which is funded by pro-charter organizations, recently issued its report comparing the academic growth over a three-year period of students in Washington’s charter schools when compared with their true public school (TPS) counterparts. What it found was that charter school students did no better.

“From that report:

“Over that time, the typical charter school student in Washington demonstrated no statistically different academic growth in reading and math when compared to their exact-match counterpart in nearby district schools (TPS). The trend across the two growth periods shows a slight downward trend in reading and math as the number of students served grew. The finding of no meaningful difference in learning gains held across most of the different student groups within the charter population. Only English language learners [ELLs] experience significantly higher learning gains associated with charter school attendance. Other student subgroups such as students in poverty, Black students, and Hispanic students experience non-significant positive gains on average. “

“It should be noted that the small gains experienced by English Language Learners disappeared when Hispanic ELLs in charters were compared with Hispanic ELLs in public schools. The report also confirmed that charters in Washington, as elsewhere, enrolled fewer special education students and fewer ELLs.


In 2015, the Washington State Supreme Court held in 2015 that the state’s charter school law was unconstitutional because charter schools are not governed by elected school boards as required by the state constitution. Today, it issued a new decision and upheld a revised charter law.

Since charter schools are still not governed by elected school boards, we will have to wait and read the decision to find out what changed to allow these privately operated schools to receive public funding.

The Washington Supreme Court has upheld most of the state’s charter school law, eliminating the specter that the classrooms serving about 3,400 students might have to close.

In a decision Thursday, a majority of the court rejected the bulk of a challenge brought by teachers unions and other groups. The court said using public money to operate alternative, nonprofit charter schools over which voters have no direct control is allowed by the state Constitution.

The Washington State Charter Schools Association cheered the ruling as a “win for public education” and a “big step forward in the fight to close the opportunity gap that persists in our state.”

The justices struck down part of the law that restricted the ability of charter school employees to unionize.

It would be ironic indeed if the teachers in these charter schools voted to unionize, since one of the goals of the Waltons, the Koch brothers, and Bill Gates is to build a union-free charter school industry.