Spokane could have the first charter school in Washington by next fall.
It will be a historic and controversial development closely watched by school administrators, teachers, politicians and education reformists throughout the state.
Voters approved charter schools last year, and Spokane Public Schools has dashed to be among the first districts to allow the independent schools to form and operate within its boundary.
On Wednesday the state Board of Education gave the go-ahead, though a pending lawsuit brought by the state teachers union could unravel the charter school initiative.
“Today is a historic day for the board,” said board member Cindy McMullen. “We have approved Spokane as the first school district charter authorizer. The board conducted a rigorous review process and found Spokane’s application to be of very high quality.”
Charter schools are independent public schools that use nontraditional and innovative teaching methods. They are held accountable for improved student achievement, receive taxpayer funding and are governed by their own boards.
Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Redinger said she was excited to hear the news.
“I think we’ll get a lot of interest,” Redinger said. “It’ll be a good thing.”
Only school districts approved by the Washington Board of Education and the state-appointed Washington Charter Commission can authorize the independent public schools.
Spokane is the only district so far to seek the opportunity to have a charter school.
“It’s a great way to start some new partnerships for Spokane students,” Redinger said.
Redinger wants to be a leader in choosing the right charter school for the district, rather than having the state decide what kind of charter school would be a fit for Spokane.
“If there’s no partnership (with a school district), and they find their own facility and provide their own transportation, then the district gets no money,” said Steven Gering, Spokane Public Schools’ chief academic officer.
Charter schools have “more flexibility and more accountability,” Gering said. If they don’t meet their contractual agreements, the district doesn’t have to renew their contract after five years and the school goes away.
Up to 40 charter schools – eight per year – can be approved over the next five years.
It is possible Spokane Public Schools could approve more than one application, Redinger said.
“Spokane Public Schools is helping build a great, high-performing public charter school sector to improve learning for all students,” said Chris Korsmo, board chair of the Washington State Charter Schools Association – a new nonprofit to support the creation of high-quality public charter schools.
She added that the nonprofit is thrilled to see the state’s second-largest district and Board of Education “are embracing more public education options for kids, recognizing that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work for every family.”
Spokane Public Schools has until Sept. 22 to issue a request for proposals. All applications to establish a school within the district will be due by Nov. 22. District officials then have until Feb. 24 to accept or decline the proposals.