In Washington, charter schools are like most late library books: overdue without a good excuse.
The state ought to have them. Most others do. But voters have said no three times, with the latest rejection coming in 2004. Nonetheless, a new effort is under way, and it better have enthusiastic support because backers will have only about a month to gather signatures before the state is finished processing the initiative, which was filed just Tuesday.
Potential tardiness aside, the success or failure should rest on the merits, and we think there are good reasons to pursue the 40 charter schools that this initiative envisions.
For starters, it is a modest proposal. Forty schools won’t upset the state’s vast public school system, nor will they transform the quality of education. However, it is a nice number with which to test the arguments for adding more choices to improve outcomes, and to persuade more parents to entrust their children to public education.
Under this initiative, charters can’t exclude students who wish to attend, nor charge tuition. Funding is based on per-student enrollment, just like traditional public schools. Nonprofit entities run the schools and can hire and fire teachers, but the students are expected to meet the same academic standards.
Parents who are not pleased with their students’ current setting might be attracted to charters because of a customized curriculum that emphasizes what they value in education. This includes parents who have opted to home-school their children. Students who find the right fit will be less likely to drop out.
Like any school, the quality of charters would be predicated on those guiding them. The experience of other states is that some charter schools shine, while others flunk. We think broadening the choices for parents fosters trust.
In addition, there is a significant financial incentive for the state. The federal “Race to the Top” contest has a definite pro-charter bias, and Washington’s applications have suffered accordingly. It’s frustrating to watch millions of dollars go elsewhere over unfounded fears.
The experience of Coeur d’Alene shows that a high-quality charter school ought to be viewed as a welcome addition. The Charter Academy has been a popular option, and the competition it has brought to the district has spurred other educational innovations.
Spokane Public Schools offers many options for students, including the Libby Center (gifted students), APPLE (parent participation), TEC (home-school support), Montessori (alternative learning style) and the Skills Center (career-oriented). Charter schools should be viewed as another alternative rather than a threat.
In its most recent session, the state Legislature failed to pass a couple of bipartisan bills that would’ve allowed for charter schools. So a coalition of respected educational interests, including the League of Education Voters, has filed this initiative.
We urge voters to further the debate by putting this initiative on the ballot.
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