Teacher Union's 'Friend of Public Education' Kills Charter School Bill in Washington State

Even though voters in Washington State have rejected charter schools three times over the past 20 years, the idea refuses to go away.

After years of dipping their toes in the water, it appeared that Washington State lawmakers were finally ready to take the plunge, and approve a very modest charter school law.

But right at the last moment, Democratic state Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe took it upon herself as education committee chairwoman to close down the pool and order everyone out.

McAuliffe, who was given the Washington Education Association “Friends of Public Education” award in 2010, blocked the bill that would have allowed 50 charter schools to be created in the state over the course of five years.

The bill had enough support – from five Republicans and two Democrats – to pass the committee, the Seattle Times reports.

One of the Democrats, state Sen. Rodney Tom, expressed dismay at the “ferocity of the pushback on charter schools.”

“We’ve been very upfront in that they are a very limited component to improving our education system,” Tom wrote in theRedmondPatch.com. “Why ten new schools per year out of 2,271 schools would be such a threat to the system is a telltale sign how engrained we are with the status quo.”

The state’s public schools are facing a financial crisis, and defenders of the status quo don’t want charter schools taking money away from the traditional public schools that employ their Big Labor friends.

A recent EAG investigation found the state’s 10 largest school districts have a combined total of 92 collective bargaining agreements with various school employee groups, representing everyone from teachers and “custodial engineers” to steamfitters and nutritionists.

Unionized public employees typically receive automatic annual pay raises, free or low-cost health insurance, generous amounts of paid time off, and payouts for unused sick days. That makes them much more expensive than their private sector counterparts.

By killing the charter school bill at the last minute, McAuliffe is acknowledging that the financial needs of Big Labor trump the school choice rights of students in Washington State.

This probably makes McAuliffe the frontrunner for the 2012 WEA “Friends of Public Education” Award.