Midday Scan: Washington charter schools? Taxing oil companies? Olympia gets busy

It's controversy week. The legislature weighs private charter schools, a fee for oil companies, and state scholarships for undocumented immigrants.

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Gov. Chris Gregoire.

It's controversy week. The legislature weighs private charter schools, a fee for oil companies, and state scholarships for undocumented immigrants.

Intuitively we know there are certain things you don't say. You don't tell your girlfriend's parents that you believe in "polyamory," for example. You don't tell your boss that he's looking especially bloated these days. And you never, ever confess to a stranger, "I really love charter schools." That never-say rule is becoming softer this week as Democrats in Olympia revisit the bugaboo of charter schools.

"A group of Washington Democrats plans to introduce a bill this week that would allow for public charter schools in the state, an idea rejected three times before by voters," the AP's Donna Gordon Blankinship writes. "Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, said Tuesday that charter schools have proven to be effective and popular in nearly every other state. 'Why would you want to prevent schools that people are clamoring in other states to get into?' Tom asked."  

Washington is just one of eight states that prohibits charters, in part because of pushback from teachers' unions regarding hiring and oversight. "Now that most other states are successfully using these alternative public schools to raise student achievement, Tom says it should be a safe topic for Washington again. He said he expected a bill to be introduced Thursday," Blankinship notes. "The proposal, supported by lawmakers who are expected to introduce identical bills in both the state House and Senate, would allow up to 50 charter schools in Washington, with no more than 10 new schools in any year, according to a document about the proposal." So it's now a safe topic to discuss with strangers. Technically.

When weighing a tax (or, er, "fee") it's more tenable to target the one percent. In her state-of-the-state address on Tuesday, Gov. Gregoire did just that, angling for an oil-industry revenue stream to underwrite state transporation projects. As the News Tribune's Jordan Schrader writes, "building isn’t the focus of the proposal Gregoire outlined Tuesday. Instead, a $1.50-per-barrel charge on refineries in Tacoma and northwest Washington and some smaller fee increases would raise $3.6 billion over 10 years for operations and maintenance. It would be a patch intended to fund the basics, not an expansion — much like the proposed half-cent sales-tax increase for the main budget that Gregoire also plugged in her State of the State speech." 

The sales tax is a decidly non-one-percent revenue option. Alternatives, including a small income tax and a capital-gains tax, are being debated by legislators, but have yet to receive the governor's support.

Meanwhile, it seems even an oil fee will draw non-plutocratic opposition. "If past trends hold up, lawmakers will be hearing from workers at the refineries, such as BP near Blaine, which can refine up to 234,000 barrels a day, or U.S. Oil in Tacoma, with a capacity of 39,000 barrels a day. Both sides say some 5,000 jobs are at stake — with Gregoire touting construction jobs on road projects and oil companies pointing to their workers and contractors," Schrader writes.  

Another topic often avoided at the dinner table (although you shouldn't) is state scholarships for Washington's undocumented students. As the Seattle Times' Lornet Turnbull writes, undocumented students are already eligible for in-state tuition. Should that privilege also extend to in-state financial assistance? "Advocates for these students, already eligible for in-state tuition, want to make a push this legislative session to allow illegal-immigrant students to receive state financial aid — resurrecting the debate about what role, if any, states should play in helping undocumented immigrant students financially," Turnbull writes. "Even they acknowledge it's a tough sell, given economic reality."  

Turnbull puts a human face to the question, profiling a senior at Kent-Meridian High School who signed up for a state scholarship when she was in the eighth grade. "The College Bound Scholarship program allows middle-school students from low-income households who maintain good grades, stay out of trouble, and graduate from high school to receive a scholarship to a Washington college or university," Turnbull writes. Lawmakers will be able to punt the issue given the budget squeeze. Still, it's a topic that won't go away, especially with so many high-achieving illegal-immigrant students in Washington.   

What exactly happened to Greg Mortenson? The "Three Cups of Tea" author and Montana resident was sidelined by a hard-hitting 60 Minutes expose that revealed his profligate spending and penchant for making up stories. Today he's engaged in that All-American pastime of reinventing himself. That's (mostly) okay with the Seattlepi.com's Joel Connelly, as long as Mortenson returns to what he does best.

"Mortenson was far more in his element dealing with mullahs, Balti elders, and Pakistani army officers than in the spotlight back home," Connelly writes. "The guy deserves a second act, but a) with a wall between charitable and personal endeavors, b) professional managers running his show under the supervision of c) an engaged, expanded board of directors. Why? Idealism and pragmatism. Any effective effort to make gentle the life of a troubled, violent corner of Planet Earth lessens chances that its violence will be visited on us."

Lastly, looking to buy an historic Seattle landmark with a pretty sweet view of Elliott Bay? Look no further than the famed Smith Tower, once the tallest building west of Ohio. In 1976, the building was purchased by Ivar Haglund simply because he liked it. Alas, Ivar's old haunt is now on the chopping block. As the Seattle Times' Eric Pryne writes, "Seattle's first skyscraper, now mostly empty, is slated to be sold at a foreclosure auction March 23 outside the King County Administration Building, according to a notice filed with the county." Get out that checkbook.    

Link Summary

The Olympian, "Washington lawmakers to propose charter schools"

The News Tribune, "Gregoire says oil refinery charge would aid transportation system"

Seattle Times, "Scholarships not for illegal immigrant students?" 

Seattlepi.com, '60 minutes' target Greg Mortenson takes lower profile" 

Seattle Times, "Smith Tower foreclosure auction set for March 23" 


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About the Authors & Contributors

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson

Peter Jackson is the former editorial-page editor of the Everett Herald. Follow him on Twitter @phardinjackson