Charter school initiative is filed

Last week, a group of education advocates, teachers, parents and legislators filed an initiative measure that will authorize a limited number of public charter schools in Washington state and evaluate their success in improving academic achievement and outcomes for Washington public school students.

Most states have public charter schools, but they are not yet authorized under Washington’s current state law.

Charter schools are independently managed public schools that are operated by nonprofit organizations. They do not charge tuition, are open to all students and receive funding based on student enrollment just like traditional public schools.

In other words, charter schools would be funded with state money that would ordinarily go to existing public schools.

Public charter schools would be subject to the same academic standards as traditional public schools, but they are free from many other regulations so they have more flexibility to set curriculum and budgets, hire and fire teachers and staff, and offer more customized learning experiences for students.

“This initiative will finally bring Washington into the 21st century in terms of educational opportunities for public school students,” said State Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle. “Forty-one other states have public charter schools and many are ranked higher in student performance than Washington schools. It makes no sense for Washington to continue to ban charter schools as an option to improve educational outcomes for students in our state.”

Under the initiative, a maximum of 40 public charter schools could be authorized over a five-year period.

Supporters say that these schools would be subject to strict oversight and public accountability, and their performance in improving student outcomes would be evaluated to determine whether additional charter schools should be allowed.

“Teachers in public charter schools will be held to the same certification requirements as other public school teachers,” said Todd Hausman, a veteran fourth-grade teacher, union leader and education advocate from Bellingham, who also supports the measure. “Charter schools are designed to solve problems particularly for students who aren’t succeeding in traditional public  schools.”

Organizers say that in addition to what they term broad bipartisan support from teachers, parents and community leaders, the measure is supported by both Democrat and Republican legislators, including State Sen. Rodney Tom (D) and State Sen. Steve Litzow (R).

“This measure is a very reasonable and carefully thought-out approach to bringing innovative solutions to our public schools and improving the quality of education we provide to all students in Washington,” Litzow said. “Washington is one of the few states that doesn’t allow public charter schools as an educational option for parents and students. We believe that once the voters have a chance to study this measure, a majority will support this effort to provide additional options for improving educational outcomes for all students, particularly students who are struggling and at risk of dropping out of school.”

State Representative Marcie Maxwell, D-Renton, is firmly against the initiative.

She points out that funding for education is needed for improving what is in place, not on another educational model.

Charters draw funds away from public schools, from public schools levies and bonds, and from vital shared school district resources, she noted.

“Washington K-12 public schools must work for one million kids — not 5,000 kids.”

The legislator, who has long been an advocate for schools and is a former school board director for Renton public schools, points out that existing schools can change and improve.

“We have the ability to innovate within our existing public schools system and we are already innovating,” she said.

She also disputes the fact that students from charter schools perform better than their public counterparts.

Now that the initiative has been filed, it will go through the process to establish an official ballot title before petitions are printed. Supporters expect signature gathering to begin in about a month for a place on the November ballot.


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