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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

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Charter school lawsuit is disappointing

Once again, the differences between Spokane’s two charter schools and the rest have been glossed over.

Once again, parents and students who love their schools will be on pins and needles as this case is adjudicated.

The state Supreme Court struck down the original charter school initiative. Then the state Legislature passed a law to address the court’s concerns. Now opponents are challenging that fix.

One strike against the charter initiative, according to the court, is that the schools are overseen by boards of unelected people. That’s true of West Side charters, but it’s different in Spokane, where Spokane Public Schools became a charter school authorizer – the only district in the state to do so. The elected SPS board oversaw the vetting process, and the district chose Spokane International Academy and Pride Prep. The district can pull charters if they’re not meeting prescribed standards. In short, there is accountability for the public dollars that follow students to charter schools.

The other legal sticking point was drawing public dollars from the general fund for charter schools. In April, lawmakers passed a law that allowed charter schools to receive lottery money instead.

There are nine charter schools statewide. Under the law, a total of eight new charters a year can be approved over five years. At most, that means 40 schools in a state that has 296 school districts, about 51,000 teachers and more than 1 million students. The state is not going to be overrun with charters, but to hear opponents talk, a sliver of alternative learning will inflict grievous harm on the entire system.

In explaining why the statewide teachers union joined the latest lawsuit, Kim Mead, president of the Washington Education Association, issued a news release stating: “Instead of passing unconstitutional charter school laws, we believe the Legislature should focus on its paramount duty – fully funding K-12 basic education for all of our state’s 1.1 million students, no matter where they live.”

The Legislature has punted on fully funding basic education for more than three decades. Charter schools just got here. It’s absurd to turn them into a bogeyman. If the lawsuit truly is about the kids, then what about charter school students who are thriving like never before? Where is the concern that they didn’t do as well in “acceptable” learning environments?

Washington state has struggled to close the achievement gap between disadvantaged students and the rest. Charters are heavily populated with minority and low-income students. At Spokane International Academy, which is in Hillyard, end-of-year tests showed dramatic improvement in reading, with 91 percent of kindergarten and first-grade students reading above grade level, up from 58 percent at the beginning of the school year.

It’s disappointing that positive outcomes are irrelevant to the opponents of charter schools.

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