Share story

State Sen. Rodney Tom expressed frustration tonight at the pledge by Gov. Chris Gregoire, a fellow Democrat, to veto any bill that authorizes charter schools in Washington state.

Tom, D-Bellevue, is one of three senators who have broken with their party to endorse a budget plan advanced by the minority Republicans. A proposal unveiled by them and Republicans this morning included a provision for a limited number of charters, an idea rejected by Democratic leaders.

Asked tonight whether charters will be a major factor in his budget vote, Tom said the two policies are unrelated. But he reiterated his strong support for charters, public but independent schools that use unconventional techniques — often including the hire of nonunion employees.

Tom noted that the original GOP budget he supported two weeks ago did not include a charter provision.

Democrats and leaders of the state teachers union criticized the move to reignite the charter debate.

“Funding smaller class sizes for our youngest children should be a higher priority than squandering taxpayer money on failed charter school schemes that voters don’t want,” union president Mary Lindquist said.

But the strongest criticism came from Gregoire, whose emphatic veto threat seemed to kill — again — any chance of charters. Still, Tom floated the idea of placing a referendum clause in the bill that would instead send the issue to voters.

He called Gregoire’s veto threat “unfortunate.”

“I’d like to think the governor would want to go down as an education champion and not someone who does whatever the teachers union wants,” he said. “It just dumbfounds me how locked in the status quo we are in Olympia.”