From National Alliance for Public Charter Schools | By Terry Ryan
Semper Fidelis is Latin for “always faithful.” It is the United State Marine Corps motto. According to the Marine’s web site “Marines remain faithful to the mission at hand, to each other, to the Corps, and to the country, no matter what.”
Tom Franta is the CEO of Washington State Charter Schools Association and a Marine. Tom has been at the helm of the state’s charter school efforts during a time when that program has been under assault. Last September, the Washington State Supreme Court voted 6-3 that the state’s nascent charter school program was “unconstitutional.” That decision overrode the will of a majority of the electorate that had voted in 2012 to allow the state to open 40 charter schools in five years, and threatened to toss some 1,100 students out of their chosen schools. Most of these children are low-income, English language learners, or students with disabilities.
After the decision came down, things looked bleak for the schools, their families, and their children, but Tom Franta and his team rallied their allies. They made it clear they were not about to give up. The stakes were too high to simply surrender. They had a mission to preserve the schools, the will of the voters, and the rights of parents to send their children to the schools they believe work best for their children.
They fought back. They engaged the media in telling the stories of the children and their schools. They mobilized and rallied their supporters across the state and across the country. They asked philanthropists and private funders to support not only their political campaign, but to ensure there were sufficient funds available to pay to keep the schools open. They targeted lawmakers and found allies in the House and the Senate to craft legislation that would keep the children in their schools. They led, persevered, and never wavered as months passed without legislative action and hopes for a political solution seemed to wane.
Through it all Tom spoke out publicly at every turn arguing “we cannot afford to settle for anything short of a long-term solution that honors the will of the voters, keeps existing public charter schools open, allows authorized schools to progress towards opening and allows for the creation of new public charter schools over the next several years.”
Wednesday night, Washington lawmakers passed legislation by a vote of 58 to 39 that saved, at least for now, the state’s charter school program. Opponents have promised to continue their efforts to outlaw charter schools in Washington. They are well funded by defenders of the status quo that include the Washington Education Association. Despite what has surely been a painful struggle, Tom’s comments to the media after the House vote were classy and to the point, “We’re very appreciative of the speaker for bringing to the floor, and very appreciative of what was a very cordial and honest debate from both sides.”
If asked Tom Franta would tell you that the charter schools in Washington were saved by the actions of brave lawmakers, strong supporters, dedicated school leaders, teachers, families and students, and he’d tell you how great his staff and board have been throughout. He’d say little about his role. But the fact is that when the chips were down in Washington it was a Marine that helped to carry the day.