Implementation of Washington’s charter school law advanced another step forward Friday while its opponents were in court insisting the state look backward.
The forward thinkers were filing applications to open charter schools as soon as next September. Initiative 1240, narrowly passed by voters last fall, provides for as many as 40 publicly funded charter schools in which administrators, teachers and parents are allowed more flexibility addressing the education needs of their students.
Washington was late joining the charter school movement. Six thousand schools in 42 states have 2 million students enrolled, with another 1 million on waiting lists. The results are mixed, but they have provided an alternative in underperforming school districts – many that serve poor and minority students.
That definition fits several Spokane schools, and Spokane Public Schools directors and Superintendent Shelley Redinger have aggressively pursued charter schools as one of a number of options for students who are not learning in conventional classrooms. The district is the only one in Washington that can authorize its own charter schools. In October, operators of three potential schools expressed interest in filing applications with the district, and 28 were considering an application with the state Charter School Commission.
It would be surprising if all were ready to file Friday, and even more surprising – and worrisome – if all were approved. Expectations for these new schools will be high, and officials should be as selective as necessary to assure charter schools succeed.
Meanwhile, the Washington Education Association and Association of School Administrators were among the plaintiffs in King County Superior Court who want a ruling declaring the Charter School Act a violation of the Washington Constitution.
They assert the law takes control of the schools away from school district voters, diverts money that should be going to fund the educations of all students, imperils the educational progress of charter school students and compromises labor agreements.
All too frequently their complaint uses the word “common schools,” as if education for every student means the same education for every student. If we know anything, we know there are no common students. Districts all over Washington constantly experiment with programs intended to reach struggling and/or exceptional students – Running Start, for one example.
Charter schools – which take no money away from other students – are just another extension of these efforts.
Washington parents and students who know “common” has not worked for them should have equal access to the uncommon, including charter schools. With only 40 schools, at most, to monitor, we are confident state school officials can identify those that are falling short of educational snuff. That is doubly the case with the Spokane School District.
With the breadth of online education options expanding exponentially, more bricks-and-mortar options seem almost quaint. But they should be part of the future of education in Washington.
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