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Charter school criteria to be decided Thursday, Aug. 22

Those wanting to open a charter school in Washington will get a clear idea Thursday of what it will take to be among the first operators of publicly funded, privately run campuses in the state.

In a daylong meeting in Everett, the Washington Charter School Commission is expected to approve criteria for evaluating charter school applications it receives in November and language for contracts it will sign with those initial operators next February.

"It will give them an indication of what we're looking for in terms of the type and quality of a charter school," Commissioner Doreen Cato of Bellevue said of the looming decisions. "This for me is a crucial meeting because we're in this very tight timeline."

Commissioners are expected to adopt additional rules governing the operation and oversight of charter schools, which Washington voters legalized in 2012 with passage of Initiative 1240.

Thursday's meeting, which begins with comments from the public, is slated to run from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. in Everett Community College's Jackson Conference Center. TVW is planning to provide a live webcast of the meeting.

A key action Thursday will be adoption of the evaluation rubric, which commission chairman Steve Sundquist of Seattle described Monday as "telling the world what we'll essentially be looking for."

Speaking generally, he said it will cover instructional strategies, community relationships, financial plans and potential facilities. He said it's not certain yet if the commission will give different weight to each element.

That information is vitally important for potential operators. Once rules are in place the commission, which started work in April, will issue a request for proposals for charter schools. That will go out Sept. 22 and those interested must turn in their plans by Nov. 22.

Commissioners will conduct public hearings on the applications and have until early February to make decisions.

Under the law, no more than 40 charter schools can be approved over a five-year period. Charter schools can be authorized by either the commission, an independent panel made up of political appointees, or school districts, which receive approval to do so from the state Board of Education.

At this point, the first charter schools could open by the fall of 2014.

Also Thursday, commissioners are scheduled to conduct a closed-door interview of a candidate for its executive director position.

The panel, which is composed of political appointees, is in the throes of a lengthy search for its first chief executive. Roughly 20 people have applied and several have been interviewed, commissioners said.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit aimed at derailing the establishment of charter school moved a step forward this week.

In July, a coalition of charter school opponents led by the state's largest teacher's union sued the state. It claimed the voter-approved law is unconstitutional for several reasons including that it diverts public tax dollars into privately run schools.

On Monday, coalition lawyers filed their initial brief in King County Superior Court. The state will get a chance to reply. A hearing in the case is now set for late October, according to Paul Lawrence, an attorney for the coalition.

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