Voices Rise For Charter Schools Fix In Washington, But Time Running Short

Recent Commentary Stresses Success So Far, And Promise Of Washington Charter Schools

Voices Rise For Charter Schools Fix In Washington, But Time Running Short
Students, parents and teachers from public charter schools rallied last week in Olympia. Photo: Rainier Prep Public Charter School.

The Washington State House of Representatives continues to deliberate whether or not to rescue the 1,000-plus students in voter-approved public charter schools from a September 2015 State Supreme Court ruling which strikes at the heart of their public funding. The current session is scheduled to end March 10.

Using a 1909 definition of the term, the high court ruled that to receive “common school” funding from the state’s General Fund, Washington charter schools must be overseen by elected school boards. Emergency funding from the state runs through the end of the school year, but the legislature does not meet again until next January.

Senate Bill 6194 would provide a solution via state lottery funds, but despite Senate approval it hasn’t received a vote yet in the House.

Eight Charters Running Now In State; Three More Were To Open This Year

Currently six operating charter schools in Seattle and Tacoma are authorized by a state commission and overseen by their own boards of directors.

Three more authorized by the state were to open this year, in Seattle, West Seattle, and Walla Walla. Local districts in Seattle and Tacoma are opposed to charter schools. So is the state’s teachers labor union, The Washington Education Association, and its Seattle and Tacoma affiliates.

Another two charter schools operate in Spokane were authorized by the local school district. In a statement on its web site, the district said, “The two charter schools authorized by SPS, Pride Prep and Spokane International, are still operating at full speed despite the recent…Supreme Court rulings.”

Advocates in education reform, the legislature and business say a solution is vital.

Leach: Race And Class Of Charter Opponents Hard To Ignore

In an open letter to state legislators published at the site of the Washington State Charter Schools Association, educator and parent Alison Leach accented the possibilities charter schools present for minority students, and expressed concern that white, more well-off opponents aren’t taking this into account.

Leach writes: “I noticed that every single person who testified against charter schools at the House hearing…appeared to be white, while many of those who testified in favor of charter schools were people of color..”

Leach adds, “wealthy people, largely white, in our state have access to private schools, whereas low-income people, many of color, do not. In Seattle, we have one of the highest rates of private school usage in the country. Families who are able to pay are opting out.”

Public School Population Explosion Requires New Options

Population growth adds to the need for alternative schools and more capacity, according to Leach. “..Washington’s, and in particular Seattle’s, population is growing at a very fast pace. With all the concern about charters taking away students and funds from district schools, no one mentioned that thousands of new students will need to be taught over the coming few years – and class sizes are already too full. From this standpoint, how are charters not being seen as useful partners in handling the explosion in the public school population?”

At T74, a national online daily covering education, Robin Lake of the University of Washington’s Center For Reinventing Public Education, writes about Washington’s “Shameful Claim to Fame.”

‘Notable Progress Academically’

Lake says the state’s “78 percent graduation rate ranks among the lowest in the country” and that Washington charter schools are “making notable progress academically.”

She adds, “They are attracting a very diverse student population. They are serving students with special needs. They are partnering with local school districts to share their practices. They are empowering teachers to try new approaches, like embedding design and computational thinking in every classroom or giving every student an individualized learning program. Students and their parents in Washington’s public charter schools say they are thrilled with the high expectations, supports, and warm caring environments they are getting.” But they will have to shut down if a funding source isn’t approved by March 10, Lake says.

Elsewhere:

Charter Schools Fix Deserves Action,” The Olympian, 2/28/16;

Charter School Fix Must Keep Current Ones And Allow More,” Yakima Herald-Republic, 2/27/16;

What’s Working: Empowering Diverse Students In Washington State Charter Schools,” Huffington Post, 2/26/16, Allan Golston. He is President, U.S. Program, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation;

Charter Schools Are Successful And Worth Saving,” Spokane Spokesman-Review, 2/27/16, Jeff Bunch.

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