Who is Trying to Control Education in Washington State?

by the WAESN Legislative Committee

This upcoming WA State legislative session, beginning January 9th, 2023, will feature the newest attempt of right-wing organizers and politicians to privatize and further control what our students learn in school, according to a briefing from Senator Jim McCune’s office. McCune, from the 2nd District, calls his package of nine bills the “Parents’ Education Bill of Rights,” yet what it represents is an attack on the well-being of our students. While this may have the backing of a boisterous group of 9k Facebook parents, this bill might as well be called the “Bigoted Corporation’s Education Bill of Rights” in its effects. This “Bill of Rights” contains everything from banning “CRT” and hormone therapy, to funding private schools and regulating bathrooms. We hope to lay out the dangers these pieces of legislation pose to our students, especially our students of color, trans, and low income students, and call upon our community to rally to prevent these bills from having a hearing in the upcoming session. 

The right-wing education organizations behind this legislation, including the Family Policy Institute of Washington and Parents Rights in Education, would like us to think that these bills are about transparency, autonomy, and choice – key buzzwords of the conservative right – but in fact, they pose a threat to our students, our teachers, and the public school system. Following Representative Jim Walsh’s earlier failed attempts in the Washington State Legislature and Senator Hawley’s national “Parents’ Bill of Rights” in the U.S. Senate, this proposal has new support, coherency, and purpose behind it that challenges Washington State’s supposedly “progressive” reputation. On Facebook, where many Gen X and Boomer parents organize on the right, these groups are actively organizing behind Senator McCune and Jim Walsh, with 9k members of the “Washington, Parents’ Rights in Education” group. Itss on these platforms, and private meetings, trainings, workshops, and Zoom calls where like-minded right-wing activists engage in unchecked bigoted discourse, strategize, and build their legislative agendas. Our belief that we live in a liberal bubble is hurting our efforts to organize, not only in prevention of these attacks on human rights, but also to implement much needed changes to our school system for our students and families. At WAESN, we are working on educating the public on these issues, so we can come together to take action against these bills. With school strikes, budget cuts, enrollment down, and lawsuits piling up, the state of public education is in a dire condition here in Washington despite our Constitution calling education “a paramount duty”of our state. We are calling on our WAESN community members to join us to protect our students from further harm. 

What do these bills call for, what threats do they present, and why? 

McCune’s package includes nine main measures so far: The Right to Choose, The Educational Choice Scholarship Program, The Individual Class Freedom Act, The Parent Consent in Youth Sexual Education, The Education Transparency Act, The Parental Involvement Act, The Safe Facilities Act, and a Ban on “Puberty Blockers”. These acts and measures have been taken from legislation passed in other states and come from well-organized and disseminated “anti-CRT tool kits”. 

In this first special report, we will document the dangers of privatization by responding to the two main “privatization” measures in McCune’s proposed legislation. In the coming reports, we will look at the measures that promote curriculum control and transparency, and finally we will look at those that regulate our students’ bodies and school spaces. 


According to the policy briefing released by State Senator McCune’s office, there are two measures that would work to further privatize our education system: 

Right to Choose – This measure would establish the right of all Washington parents to educate their children at the school of their choice, be it public, private, home-based or religious. It would require the state to provide parents with vouchers equivalent to their student’s portion of the public-school fund.

The Educational Choice Scholarship Program – This measure would provide students from designated public schools with the opportunity to attend participating private schools. The program also provides scholarship opportunities to low-income students who are entering kindergarten through 12th grade.

What is wrong with privatization? Don’t we want “the Right to Choose” and “Choice Scholarships” for low-income students? On the surface, the language used resonates with the American value of liberty, but these measures miss the mark when it comes to bringing racial and economic equity to our education system. If you are unfamiliar with the language of “privatization,” please watch this short introduction video. For a brief video on the dangers of privatization, here is a great introduction, via TedTalk

Scholars have studied and documented the racial and economic consequences of privatization over the last 40 years. Groups like the NAACP have also been fighting privatization on the ground, advocating against neoliberal privatization, because amongst one of the worst consequences is its contribution to racial inequity in our school system. The right to choose suggests that we all have a choice, but in most cases, there is no “choice” for lower income families and students of color.

As privatization increases, our public schools suffer the consequences of receiving fewer dollars per student. Washington State’s budget formulas depend on student enrollment, so using public funds for private schools will only further defund our schools. We cannot let Washington follow the 15 states with voucher programs across the country. 

The effects of privatization are numerous. In more conservative states, the path to privatization has been fought and won at the expense of students of color and low income students. The most infamous case of privatization in the U.S. occurred following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Naomi Klein’s famous term “Shock Doctrine” was used to describe how corporations used the natural disaster to prey on predominantly Black and low income families, which led to funding for private charter schools, many of which were found guilty of various fraudulent practices.

Since 2013, attempts have been made in Washington to pass a “voucher program” to shift public taxpayer money into private investments. This legislation would only exacerbate current trends of privatization in Washington, where 1 in 5 students in Seattle attends a private school. Over the last two years, Washington State has lost $900 million in its budget because of declining enrollment. Students are moving to private schools, religious schools, charter schools, and homeschooling at record numbers, exceeding national averages. This trend is not new, but a repetition of what the United States saw after desegregation, where white families fled to the newly updated suburbs. The racial costs of voucher programs have been well documented. The NEA released this report, which reminds us that voucher programs were banned following the Brown v. Board Supreme Court decision to desegregate, because vouchers are rooted in segregationists’ attempts to escape diverse school systems. 

As this session approaches, look for opportunities to join us in organizing against McCune’s attempt to further privatize our education system by contacting your state representatives demanding this legislation not be granted a hearing. We will be preparing and supporting community members with resources in this process, so stay tuned for ways to get involved. We will be collecting testimony from the community to send to the chair of the Education Committee, Representative Tomiko Santos, who is credited for giving Representative Walsh’s bill a hearing last legislative session.

Check out our Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter pages for a slide deck that summarizes this article: @waethnicstudies. Share it in your stories and keep posted for ways to get your community involved in this important work.

In the next report, we will break down how McCune’s nine measures promote curriculum control and transparency, and finally we will look at those that regulate our students’ bodies and school spaces. 

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