All public charter schools in Washington are free, highly accountable and open to all. Most important, our public charter schools are working.
AT the end of the legislative session, I testified before my colleagues in the state House of Representatives about something very personal to me: public education. Supporting a bill that now awaits Gov. Jay Inslee’s signature, I told my fellow state representatives how the opportunity to learn and succeed changed the course of my life, before I was even born.
Right after the Civil War, my great-great-grandfather — suddenly a freed slave — packed up what few belongings he had, gathered his family together and crossed the Mississippi River from Tennessee into Arkansas.
On solid ground, my great-great-grandfather — coming from a long line of preachers — conducted a prayer service, and said to his family: “Our lives start right here. If we work hard, and we learn, we can be anything we want to be in this country. We are free.”
My great-great-grandfather’s words were passed down to me through the decades.
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I grew up in South Central Los Angeles, the son of a single mother. The work ethic my great-great-grandfather instilled in his children and his children’s children, combined with the opportunities afforded to me by public education, landed me where I am today — a legislator advocating for change and justice in the state House. But that’s not enough. There are so many kids who can do even more than I have that we are leaving behind.
So public education means everything to me.
My heart breaks when I see students in my district failing out of school, not because they do not want to learn, but because their school cannot meet their learning needs. My heart breaks seeing students with so much potential receiving discouragement and additional hardships from their public schools instead of knowledge and empowerment to achieve their dreams.
Public education works miracles. I have seen the miracles public education has worked in my own life and in the lives of the many constituents I meet every day. Great public education for all students means, no matter where we start, even from the valley of slavery, we can achieve the incredible.
As a state, we cannot let go of our ability to lift hardworking people out of poverty. We must do everything within our power to ensure public education remains a powerful ladder to success for every child in Washington. We cannot allow the leaders and innovators of future generations to slip through the cracks simply because we were too stuck in our ways to create the change we know they needed.
ESSSB 6194, a bill to keep Washington’s public charter schools open for the long-term and an option for all communities across the state, now sits on Inslee’s desk awaiting his signature. The bill, which passed both houses of the Legislature with bipartisan support, provides excellent educational opportunities for hundreds of students today, and potentially thousands of students in the future.
All public charter schools in Washington are free, highly accountable and open to all. Most important, our public charter schools are working. Across the board, students in Washington’s public charter schools who entered entire grade levels behind in math and reading are back on track. The students who chose public charter schools — and more than 70 percent are students of color and more than two-thirds qualify for free or reduced-price school meals — are receiving an excellent education in communities that historically have had few high-quality options.
I have heard some of my fellow legislators who oppose ESSSB 6194 say we either need to fix every problem in public education for every student in Washington or do nothing at all. I urge the governor to reject such false choices.
I urge the governor to sign the charter-school bill, which would keep these students on the path to achieving their dreams and build upon Washington’s foundation of innovation and accountability in public education.