By Morgen Flowers-Washington
In 2015, Spokane International Academy was founded to offer a different type of free, public educational experience to all students in our community.
We were one of the first schools in the region to focus on learning through a global perspective that includes teaching Spanish to all students in kindergarten and creating firsthand experiences that emphasize the value of community service by offering volunteer opportunities in Washington state and internationally.
We know our students need skills to thrive in an interconnected world, and this approach, coupled with our focus on academic excellence, means our students are ready to take on the future, whether in college or career.
Since we opened, we’ve seen a strong interest in our school from families in our community. As a result, in 2021, we expanded our public school, which was initially K-8, to also include a high school.
I’m so proud of how far we’ve come and demand continues to rise – we currently have a waitlist of 170 students. (Once we reach our maximum capacity, students are added to a waitlist and selected through a random lottery.)
Yet, amid our success, we face significant funding challenges. Despite the fact that we are a charter public school – meaning we are free and open to all students in the region as our capacity allows – we receive less funding than traditional public schools.
That’s because state law currently dictates that charter public schools are not entitled to local property tax levies or dedicated funding for facilities. As a result, students at schools like ours receive on average 25% less public funding – which in 2023, ended up being more than $2,400 per student – than their peers in traditional public schools.
This has many real-life consequences for our students.
We’ve been working for two and a half years to build a school library, which will open next month. It took this long because teachers had to resort to asking for donations from our families, broader community, and their own personal networks as well as cobbling together grants to get the funding.
Similarly, our music teacher spent months fundraising to secure the money needed to buy instruments to offer orchestra classes, a standard offering at other public schools.
Our lawmakers are currently gathered in Olympia for the legislative session to decide on what measures they will pass to improve the lives of Washingtonians. I am urging them to consider ways to make sure that all public schools, like ours, are funded fairly in our state.
Students shouldn’t be punished for choosing to attend a charter public school if they feel that it is a better fit for them.
It’s crucial that we find a permanent solution to this inequity.
We are grateful to lawmakers’ for previously passing short-term measures to address this problem. One-time funding has been critical to our students and school and has demonstrated that decision-makers see the value of charter public schools to families and communities.
But it also limits charter public schools from the certainty necessary to make long-term investments in their students, since they do not know if the funding will be renewed the following year.
Permanent and equitable funding is necessary to ensure that all students in our state get the educational opportunities they deserve.
Despite these challenges, I feel hopeful when I look around Spokane International Academy. Like at other charter public schools, our students continue to outperform students at traditional public schools in core subjects. This includes Black, Latinx and low-income students at SIA, who, on average, demonstrated higher rates of math and English proficiency than their peers across Washington on last year’s statewide exams.
Our students continue to amaze me every day – our eighth graders are starting their community projects, where they design and participate in a service project in their community. They will go on to write a research paper and present their findings to a panel of community leaders and peers in a presentation in May.
This year, our students are raising awareness about and exploring solutions to issues like food insecurity, the need for support for people with disabilities and the dangers of eating disorders.
I’m so excited to watch them grow this year and to follow them on their journey to become the future leaders of our community.
I implore lawmakers and community members to make sure they receive the support they need to get there.
Morgen Flowers-Washington is the head of school at Spokane International Academy, a charter public school serving 775 students in grades K-11.