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Saturday, March 28, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Guest Opinion

Charter schools need Legislature to act

In our community, it is not uncommon to witness people stepping up in big and small ways to make a difference in people’s lives. We’ve seen that in more ways than one, thanks to the incredible, generous support from parents, students, teachers and community leaders who only want the best for kids in this region.

When we set out to establish two of Washington’s first public charter schools – Spokane Internaional Academy and PRIDE Prep – we couldn’t have fully anticipated the outpouring of support and welcoming we would receive from the Spokane community.

Since the first days of school, and many months before, we’ve heard from families and community members at festivals, picnics, school meetings and conferences about how Spokane International Academy and PRIDE Prep are giving kids new and innovative learning experiences – strengthening our public education system and offering families in our community meaningful choices in the education of their children.

Our models are diverse, inclusive and innovative. Early evidence of academic gains in our elementary and middle school students demonstrates that students who came in behind grade level are now on pace in reading and math. For example, at Spokane International Academy, based on Lexia, an adaptive reading program, only 2percent of K-1 students were on track to be at grade level by the end of the year. Just halfway through the year, already more than 60percent are reading at grade level. In fact, per its remarkable gains, SIA has been chosen by Lexia as a national model of implementation.

Our schools are also leading the way in Eastern Washington in teacher diversity. More than 30percent of the teaching staff at Spokane’s public charter schools are people of color, as compared to just 13percent statewide.

In the aftermath of the Washington Supreme Court’s September decision that ruled our voter-approved public charter school unconstitutional, we have seen that support grow larger because parents are seeing the academic growth of their children, and families and teaching staff have created robust, collaborative and supportive communities in which students are thriving.

Hundreds of families rallied behind our staff and students to keep schools open. Not only have Spokane families embraced us, but the local school district has continued to provide support through our district-charter collaboration. In fact, Spokane Public Schools authorized both of our schools, and remains committed to balancing autonomy and strong oversight for our schools.

Despite tremendous support from the district and community, the court’s decision and subsequent refusal to reconsider its ruling left us in a tough spot.

Each and every day, we wake up with a primary goal in mind – to provide the best education possible for our students. How could we tell our students that their new school was going to be taken away? That the new friendships and learning experiences they were creating every day would come to an abrupt end?

We also teach our students to find solutions to problems, to persevere and think of new ways to overcome challenges and setbacks. Most importantly, we teach them to never give up. And we weren’t about to give up on them.

We are grateful to the Mary Walker School District who welcomed our public charter schools as Alternative Learning Experiences – a stopgap measure that would allow public charters to stay open until the Legislature passes a permanent solution. We thank the district wholeheartedly for this – and recognize the state’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction for its commitment to our kids. From the beginning, its staff worked to find solutions so that all of our students’ credits and academic accomplishments will carry over during this transition period.

Let us be clear, however: This is a temporary patch that mitigates disruption to our students. Absent a legislative solution, our school doors could close, and with them the hopes and dreams of our students and families. Legislators must address and fix the law so that our students continue to have the flexible, personalized learning experiences that our public charter schools offer.

Our elected representatives need to honor the will of the voters and pass a fix to the public charter school law, lifting our students out of limbo and ensuring families continue to have access to additional public education choices. It’s what our Spokane community has fought to preserve – and what all Washington families deserve.

Travis Franklin is founder and director of Spokane International Academy. Brenda McDonald is the founder and director of PRIDE Prep.

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