Washington Charter Schools Unfazed By Latest Legal Attack; Growth Is On Track

"We feel really confident in the law that was recently passed out of the state legislature."

Washington Charter Schools Unfazed By Latest Legal Attack; Growth Is On Track
Washington charter school students are racially and culturally diverse. They are also well-schooled in successfully lobbying the state legislature. Earlier this year they persuaded lawmakers to beat back a legal attempt to block their funding. Now another lawsuit has been filed against them by the statewide teachers labor union and other organizations, but charter operators are pressing ahead with plans to serve students at eight existing facilities this year and three more next year. Photo: Washington State House Republicans.

Operators of current Washington state charter schools and new ones set to open in 2017 say a new lawsuit by charter opponents is not distracting them, or parents of prospective enrollees, from the important work at hand.

There is some water under the bridge. With bipartisan aid from lawmakers, charter schools in Washington earlier this year surmounted a 2015 legal challenge that had been upheld by the state Supreme Court, and which threatened to shut their doors. It came from groups including the Washington Education Association (WEA), the statewide teachers labor union.  

Now the 2016 state law that answered the legal challenge is itself under attack.

The WEA and others have filed a new lawsuit in King County Superior Court. The group wants the state to declare the legislation which preserved charter school funding to be unconstitutional.

‘A Protracted, Unnecessary Legal And Political Battle’

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools denounced the lawsuit, saying it “ignores both the successful ballot measure and the bipartisan, legislative solution and instead continues a protracted, unnecessary legal and political battle.”

The Washington State Charter Schools Association stated that it “…intends to file a motion to intervene in the case. Following a successful first year serving students, Washington’s charter public schools are expanding and adding grade levels and are a vital part of Washington’s public education system. School starts the week of August 15th.”

There are eight established charter schools in Washington, and operators in Seattle and Walla Walla are already preparing to open three more in fall of 2017. Two of them will be in neighborhoods noted for cultural and economic diversity.

Green Dot, Summit, Willow to Open New Charter Schools

Green Dot Public Schools will open a grades 6-8 charter school in Southeast Seattle next year. Summit Public Schools will open a grades 6 and 9 charter school in West Seattle, bordering White Center. In Walla Walla, Willow Public Schools will open a charter school serving grades 6-8.

Washington became the 42nd state to authorize charter schools after a successful 2012 voter initiative. The state allows for up to 40 charter schools. All must gain approval by the Washington State Charter School Commission. The charters are tuition-free and funded by taxpayers, but run by non-public sector entities.

Former Grocery Will House Summit West Seattle Charter School

Located in West Seattle at 35th Avenue Southwest and Roxbury Street is the site of Summit’s new Atlas School. It will open to 6th and 9th graders in August 2017. Most recently, the building has been a church and prior to that, a Safeway grocery store.

Jen Davis Wickens, chief regional officer for Summit Public Schools Washington, said the expansion comes after community members voiced concerns over traditional public schools in the area. Wickens said the school was originally set to open this fall but was delayed until next year due to legislative challenges and remodeling needs.

“Ethically, we made a decision not to recruit or enroll students until after we had a solid law,” said Wickens. “Last year was a tough year for people in the community understanding what charter schools are, because of all the media attention around the law.”

Wickens said interest in Atlas stems from parents wanting personalized education based on students’ strengths, and mentorship from instructors. The school is geared to the idea of “college for all,” said Wickens. She added 99 percent of Summit students get into at least one four-year college.

Enrollment starts next month. The goal is to be fully enrolled by March. “We are continuing with those plans despite the lawsuit,” said Wickens.

In Washington, Summit already operates two charter high schools, one each in Tacoma and Seattle.

Planned Green Dot Charter To Include High School, By Year Two

The Green Dot grade 6-8 charter school in Southeast Seattle will expand to include high school one year after its 2017 opening. It will be located on Rainier Avenue South near Grand Street.

Bree Dusseault is the executive director of Green Dot Public Schools Washington, which operates Destiny Middle School in Tacoma. She told Lens the Seattle school is being built from the ground up. In the first year, students will be at a nearby temporary site. Enrollment begins this October.

Families ‘Feel Alignment With The Academic Rigor’

“We heard very loud and clear from…stakeholders that they were looking for another great option for their children in Southeast Seattle. Some families come to us because they feel alignment with the academic rigor orientation of our school,” said Dusseault.

Despite the recent lawsuit, Dusseault said, “We are continuing business as usual and we feel really confident in the law that was recently passed out of the state legislature. We haven’t heard anything from our Seattle community around the lawsuit. I do think it’s an attempt to distract us from important work of making sure our families and students have the choice to attend a high quality, tuition-free public charter school.”

A new charter school is also to open in August of 2017 in Walla Walla. In their first year, the Willow School will be enrolling 6th and 7th graders and will add 8th graders the next year.

Executive Director Daniel Calzaretta said, “Our goal is to make sure when kids leave Willow Public School…they are ready to immediately tackle those advanced courses and are set on a college path,” said Calzaretta. “If we can get to a kid at that age and set them on the right path to success, they have a greater chance once they get to high school to be college and career ready.”

Calzaretta said the new lawsuit isn’t slowing them down. “We’ve got more important things to worry about. The schools that are already open, they haven’t lost families, they’re all fully enrolled. If we were going to see a flight from the sector it would’ve been in September of last year when the supreme court issued their ruling.”

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