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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Washington charter schools may join Springdale school district

Washington State charter schools, including two in Spokane, may join the Mary Walker School District near Springdale, Wash., later this month.

Such an arrangement would keep charter schools open as public schools despite a Washington state Supreme Court ruling declaring their funding source unconstitutional.

“Several of our schools have been in communication with the Mary Walker School District,” said Washington State Charter Schools Association spokeswoman Maggie Meyers. “At this stage nothing has been formalized.”

If the schools do join the Mary Walker School District they would be classified as Alternative Learning Experience (ALE) under state law. ALEs allow for off-campus instruction, with the schools reporting student progress to the district. A school district receives state money for students enrolled in an ALE program.

The Mary Walker district’ssuperintendent, Kevin Jacka, served on the Washington State Charter School Commission until resigning Dec. 2.

Jackasaid in an email that the “Mary Walker School District is still exploring opportunities” around hosting charter schools. The school board passed a resolution on Nov. 30 allowing Jacka to explore the feasibility of hosting charters as Alternative Learning Experience programs.

Part of the resolution read, “the District believes that all students should have a choice in their educational program.”

As of May 2015 the Mary Walker School District had 500 students in kindergarten through high school north of Spokane.

The nine charter schools in the state have a combined estimated enrollment of 1,300 students.

Adel Sefrioui, School Director for Excel Public Charter School in Kent, Wash., said he’s been in communication with the Mary Walker School District, but no decision has been finalized.

The Supreme Court decision is expected to go into effect Dec. 14., at which point charter schools will no longer receive state money.

Meyers said charters statewide will need to become affiliated with some district as Alternative Learning Experience before the end of December.

“It would really just be a stop-gap until legislation is passed,” Meyers said. “The urgency is now on the Legislature.”

The charter school initiative passed with 50.7 percent approval in 2012 making Washington the 42nd state to approve charter schools. Then on Sept. 4, just weeks after the schools opened, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that charter schools, privately run and publicly funded, are unconstitutional and cannot receive public money.

The Washington state Attorney General asked the court to reconsider that ruling, but on Nov. 19 the court upheld most of it. However, justices removed a footnote ruling that charter schools were unconstitutional because they didn’t have elected boards, which potentially could have affected other programs, like Running Start.

Brenda McDonald, the director and founder of Pride Prep, one of Spokane’s two charters, said there had been discussions by her charter’s board about joining Spokane Public Schools in the wake of the court’s decision, but those talks have ended.

There is no animosity between the district and the charter schools, she said.

“It has been a bumpy road, it really doesn’t need to be bumpier,” McDonald said.

McDonald said affiliating with the Mary Walker district wouldn’t result in a substantive change for parents or students.

Steven Gering, Spokane Public Schools’ chief academic officer, said the the larger district simply didn’t have time to bring the charter schools under district control. Gering said any agreement between the district and the charter schools would have to balance the schools desire for independence and district oversight.

“We’re still actively working on it, on a long-term plan,” Gering said. “Their short-term solution is to go a different route.”

Spokane Public Schools supported the creation of charter schools from the very beginning, Gering said. The district is a charter school authorizer, meaning that Spokane’s two charter schools presented their school plans to the district prior to opening, although they remained financially independent.

Correction: ALE stands for Alternative Learning Experience. A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to what ALE stands for.
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