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Opinion

Fri., Dec. 16, 2016

Charter schools need oversight, accountability

Charters schools in Washington state are more polarizing than they ought to be, because stringent oversight helps ensure that public dollars are not being wasted. In fact, the state’s model was judged the nation’s best by the National Association of Charter School Authorizers.

“Its law strikes the right balance that gives charter schools the freedom they need to thrive, while ensuring these schools meet a high bar and are good schools for students and taxpayers,” said John Hedstrom, vice president of policy for NACSA, in a news release.

The report was issued on Dec. 6, and it gave Washington, Indiana and Nevada perfect scores. Idaho was ranked 20th.

States with lax controls fared worse. Some charter school advocates believe the schools should have more autonomy and less government interference. As for accountability, they believe parents can “vote with their feet” if they don’t like the schools. This is the view of Betsy DeVos, a powerful charter school advocate from Michigan, who is Donald Trump’s selection as education secretary. DeVos fought Michigan legislators who wanted greater accountability measures for charter schools, according to a New York Times article.

Michigan as a whole ranks poorly on education measures, and on average its charter schools perform worse than traditional schools. The problem with casual charter rules is that they invite failure. A 2013 Stanford University study showed that 31 percent of charter schools performed worse than their public school counterparts. That’s a lot of public dollars down the drain.

Washington state is about to take the final step of a contentious process to fully fund basic education. We can’t afford to squander money with a “y’all come” attitude on charter schools. They need to held to the same standards as traditional schools, and that means government oversight.

The state aced the NACSA test because it employs the best practices for charter school authorization and accountability. Schools that may have been allowed in other states can’t meet the high bar in Washington. Spokane Public Schools is the only district to have become a school authorizer, and it had to go through a rigorous process. So far, it has authorized two schools, Pride Prep and the Spokane International Academy. It has turned away other applicants, even though they are operate in other states, because they didn’t meet the guidelines.

Charter opponents say the schools swipe money that would go to other schools. But the money follows the students, and if those students are thriving, where’s the beef? Spokane’s charters are helping close the achievement gap, which has plagued Washington state schools for years.

Nonetheless, the Washington Education Association (teachers union), along with other organizations, have filed a lawsuit to overturn legislation that funds charter schools.

The “stealing money” argument might be valid if the charter schools underperformed. So far, that isn’t the case – thanks, in part, to a law that regulates charter schools the right way.



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