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Big victory for charter schools and students

Washington state’s charter schools scored a huge victory Feb. 17 when they won the latest round in court. Hopefully, opponents will concede defeat and move on.

King County Superior Court Judge John H. Chun gave them plenty of reasons to do so.

To recap, voters approved a charter school initiative, but it was challenged in court. Eventually, the state Supreme Court struck down the initiative, saying it was unconstitutional. The state Legislature passed a bill to address the court’s concerns. Opponents again filed legal action, but Judge Chun ruled against them.

We’ve never understood the drama over a limited number of schools. The 2012 initiative allowed for eight schools per year in the first five years. That’s 40 tops. It’s not easy to get authorization. Currently, there are eight schools, with about 1,600 students. Spokane has two: Spokane International Academy and Pride Prep.

The state educates 1.1 million students across 295 school districts. Traditional public schools shouldn’t feel threatened. Neither should the Washington Education Association and its partners who filed the lawsuits.

The latest suit once again claimed the schools are unconstitutional because they divert public money to schools that aren’t accountable to the voters. The original law financed them from the general fund, and the Supreme Court ruled that to be impermissible.

Last year, the Legislature passed the Charter School Act, which funds them with lottery money instead.

Judge Chun ruled the new law doesn’t divert funds meant for traditional public schools. However, if more charter schools are authorized and the lottery account can’t cover costs, the Legislature may need another solution.

As for accountability, Chun noted that the statewide Commission on Charter Schools includes the state superintendent and members appointed by elected officials. Plus, school districts can become charter school authorizers, which Spokane Public Schools chose to do. The district is overseen by an elected school board.

Washington state’s charter school model has been deemed the best in the nation, according to the National Association of Charter School Authorizers, because it has exacting standards and demands accountability.

There’s no word yet on whether charter school opponents will appeal the ruling. If they want what’s best for students, they should back away and give charter a chance. Just ask the students’ parents.

Thus far, charter schools have demonstrated an ability to close the opportunity gap by improving outcomes for students who struggled in traditional settings. School districts offer all kinds of nontraditional alternatives, including Running Start, Odyssey and Montessori. SPS believes charter schools are another option, not a threat.

Schools should have the flexibility to try different approaches, and the notion that traditional schools are harmed by this is far-fetched.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on “Opinion.”

UPDATE: Enrollment figure corrected to 1,600.

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