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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Charter schools need flexibility, not micromanagement

The early line on charter schools is trust, but verify.

Trust them to experiment with different approaches, but verify that they’re coloring within the lines of equity and sensible standards.

Two Spokane charter schools are aiming for fall openings, but they could face hurdles if the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction gets persnickety. It’s hard enough to start a school from scratch without having to comply with late-changing rules.

OSPI is working on financial accounting rules for charter schools, and it looked like those would be released in April. Then it looked as if the rules would be announced at the end of May. But concerns about the proposed rules have delayed the process, and now the earliest they would be in place is in the fall, right when the new schools are opening their doors.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn says this is much ado about nothing. The state is merely asking charter schools to meet the same accounting rules as other public schools. But the Washington State Charter Schools Association was caught off-guard by some requirements, such as staffing levels and a mandate to contract with the Education Services District for some services.

As Travis Franklin, director of the Spokane International Academy, told The Spokesman-Review, the whole point of charter schools is to allow for flexibility. If a school can succeed with a different staffing or contracting strategy, then let it. Charters may find better approaches to instruction that traditional schools could adopt.

On the other hand, there are some reasonable rules charters must meet, and, unfortunately, the state’s first charter school is struggling to do so. Spokane’s charters should take note.

The turmoil began at First Place Scholars, in Seattle, shortly after opening its doors last fall. By November, its principal had resigned. Then one-half of its board of directors left. The school’s problems included failing to conduct background checks on all non-teaching staff. It also didn’t have a qualified special education teacher or teacher certification information readily available for public viewing. Its fire drill plan was out of date.

The school was supposed to be in compliance by now, but on Wednesday the Charter School Commission gave it until June 18 to avoid having its charter revoked.

The two Spokane charters – Pride Prep and Spokane International Academy – have already avoided defects identified in Idaho, which is being sued for alleged discrimination against minority students, students with limited English skills, disabled students and students from low-income families. After lotteries held in March, the Spokane charters reported diverse enrollments, including high proportions of students from low-income areas.

The state has a necessary role in this experiment, but it doesn’t include overly prescriptive rule-making that stifles innovation.

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