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Federal government gives $6.9 million to Washington charter schools

Washington’s embattled charter schools will be getting a a $6.9 million, three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education.

The money will be used to help the state’s eight operating charter schools buy needed supplies, start new schools and increase the classroom capacity of existing schools, said Tom Franta, chief executive officer of the Washington State Charter Schools Association.

“This is a very important showing from the federal government that these absolutely are public schools,” Franta said. “It’s tremendously important to help seed the growth.”

The Washington Education Association disagrees with Franta and said the grant doesn’t change the legitimacy of charter schools.

“The grant doesn’t change the fact that it’s unconstitutional for the State of Washington to use public funds for privately run, unaccountable charter schools,” said WEA spokesman Rich Woods. “The real issue in Washington is that the state is not following the constitution and is not fully funding basic education for public schools.”

In August, the WEA, along with several other organizations, filed a lawsuit against the state’s charter schools trying to overturn April legislation diverting money from the state lottery to fund the schools.

The federal grant money, announced Wednesday, will be used to provide training for the state’s two charter school “authorizers,” one of which is Spokane Public Schools.

“It’s a positive sign for the futures of charters in this state,” said Jeannette Vaughn, the director of innovation and charter schools for Spokane Public Schools.

The grant fills a gap left after the Washington state Supreme Court ruled that the funding source for charter school is unconstitutional. A new state law funneling lottery money to charters fixes the funding problem, but makes it illegal for charter schools to use levy dollars, Vaughn said.

“This helps supplement where they’ve had a loss of revenue,” she said.

The grant will be distributed over three years. Charter schools, or the two authorizing bodies, can apply for a sub-grant from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. There are two charter schools in Spokane: Pride Prep and Spokane International Academy.

The grant comes after a tumultuous inaugural year for Spokane’s two charter schools.

Days after the schools opened in 2015 the state supreme court ruled them unconstitutional. Several months later the schools were adopted by the Mary Walker School District, in Springdale. Then in April the legislature passed a bill that fixed the funding issue, using money from the state lottery, although Gov. Jay Inslee didn’t sign it.

In 2012, voters passed Initiative 1240, making Washington the 42nd state to approve charter schools. The measure provided for the opening of as many as 40 charter schools within five years. The first opened in the fall of 2014; there are now eight, in Spokane, Tacoma, Kent, Highline and Seattle.


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