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Opinion >  Column

Chris Cargill: SPS subjecting Pride Prep to unfair scrutiny

Spokane’s largest public charter school is being subjected to unfair scrutiny.

Over the past several months, Spokane Public Schools leaders have expressed concern about Pride Prep’s academic and financial picture. That’s a peculiar position to take, because SPS officials routinely send students to district schools with worse academic results. In contrast, Pride Prep is chosen by parents and is so popular that it must keep a waiting list.

Pride Prep occupies an old warehouse on East Sprague Avenue in Spokane. It serves nearly 800 students in middle and high school. As noted, every student at Pride Prep voluntarily chooses to attend. Students say the individual attention they receive from teachers and administrators motivates them to work harder at school. Pride Prep reopened to safe, in-person instruction last fall, many months before other districts allowed students to come to school.

Yet in May, Spokane Public School officials threatened to close the school and gave Pride Prep only a “conditional” three-year extension. To continue to serve students, SPS wants the public charter school to meet strict student achievement levels and submit to extra oversight of its budget, barriers it does not impose on other schools.

This is deeply unfair for two reasons. First, the student learning numbers show Pride Prep is better than several other SPS schools. Second, school leaders have denied Pride Prep families access to equal funding.

Pride Prep’s academic numbers are significantly better than results from other Spokane public schools with similar students. Consider the results from Spokane’s Garry Middle School. Just 35% meet English Language Arts standards in 2018-19. To make matters worse, only 25% met math standards, and 34% met science requirements. Pride Prep student achievement is higher in all these areas.

Shaw Middle School has even worse numbers. There, just 28% met English Language Arts standards, 19% met math standards and 22% met science standards.

The difference among Shaw, Garry and Pride? Local leaders are threatening to shut Pride Prep down if it doesn’t improve. There has been no discussion of closing the doors to Shaw and Garry middle schools, even though these schools deliver significantly worse results.

You might think it’s a question of funding. The facts show otherwise. As a public school, Pride Prep receives roughly $11,800 per student, per year. But Garry gets $15,800 and Shaw receives $18,100 per student. Both of the district public schools are getting more money, yet have lower student outcomes than Pride Prep.

Spokane Public Schools denies Pride Prep families their share of local school funding. Parents who choose Pride Prep pay local levy taxes, but their children don’t get any benefit from the local taxes.

Public charter schools in Washington state are forced to operate on about 15% less in funding than traditional public schools. The state is purposely discriminating against public charter school students – providing them with fewer resources, then demanding better results.

But the advantage public charter schools have is exactly this – scrutiny and choice. Charter schools also offer families an option.

Nearly 800 Spokane families have chosen to send their children to Pride Prep. Still more send their kids to Spokane’s other popular public charter school – the Spokane International Academy.

The mother of one Pride Prep student said “if schools like this lost funding, I’d be disappointed, I’d be angry, that I was part of a community that didn’t think outside the box, and didn’t empower and equip all of those (students) to have great learning.”

Reviewing public charter school performance is not a bad thing. Traditional local schools should receive the same oversight. It violates community standards when school leaders refuse to give Pride Prep access to equal levy funding, and then apply unfair double standards on the school’s finances and test results.

Pride Prep public charter school is a successful and popular public school that gives families the option they need to educate their children. Pride Prep has created a warm, accepting learning environment that is a good fit for many students. It deserves to be fairly treated, for the sake of current families and those who will need options for their child’s future.

Chris Cargill is the Eastern Washington director for Washington Policy Center, an independent research organization with offices in Spokane, Tri-Cities, Olympia and Seattle.

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