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Breaking news: Gov. Jay Inslee has decided to let the Legislature’s charter school fix become law without his signature

Many students created their own signs

Public charter schools Senate Bill 6194 is going to become law! We are excited for our kids to have more options for an excellent education. This is a big victory for our kids and their families! Thank you to everyone who helped make this possible.

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Answers to questions about Public Charter Schools

Many students created their own signs

As the Legislature continues to work on a solution for charter schools, we have received a number of questions about who can manage a charter school, how charter schools are funded, and whether charter school staff can unionize. Below are answers to some of the most common questions. For more information or answers to additional questions, please visit http://lets.actnowforwastudents.org/cards

Can private for-profit companies manage and operate public charter schools in Washington state?

No. Initiative Measure 1240 and SB 6194 state that all independently managed public schools (public charters) must be operated by qualified nonprofit organizations. http://lawfilesext.leg.wa.gov/biennium/2015-16/Pdf/Bills/Senate%20Bills/6194-S2.E.pdf

Under Initiative 1240 and SB 6194, all charter school operator applicants must be either a public benefit nonprofit corporation (RCW 24.03.490) or a nonprofit corporation (RCW 24.03.005) that has applied for 501(c)(3) tax exempt status. Additionally, nonprofit corporations operating charters may not be a sectarian or religious organization. By definition, nonprofits cannot generate revenue in excess of cost of operations. All funds must be used for educational purposes.

Can public charter schools access local levy dollars?

No. Local levy funds may only fund common schools. Because public charter schools aren’t common schools they’re unable to receive local levy dollars. If SB 6194 passes, public charter schools will only receive federal and state funds. A constitutional amendment on the use of local levy dollars would be needed for public charters to receive local levy dollars.

Do charter schools receive less public funding than traditional public schools?

In Washington, under Initiative 1240, some charters received local levy dollars and some did not, thus some charter schools received less public funding. If SB 6194 passes, no charter schools will receive local levy dollars, so all of the schools will receive less public funding than district schools.

Do charter schools have the same level of accountability and scrutiny over their finances as traditional public schools?

Charter schools have greater accountability and scrutiny over their finances than traditional public schools. Charter schools must submit their finances and budgets to their authorizer and are also subject to the same state auditing and reporting requirements under statute and OSPI rules as other public schools. Information on charter school finances will be publicly available, through OSPI public reporting and the annual authorizer reports submitted to the State Board of Education that includes each school’s financial performance.

Do public schools accept private funds from for-profit entities and foundations?

Yes. All public schools, both traditional and charter, use private funds. In most public schools this can range from a parent’s company donating materials and supplies to large private donations to school districts for technology, increased staffing, and building improvements.

Can public charter school employees form unions and have collective bargaining rights?

Yes. Public charter school employees can form unions and collectively bargain pay, benefits, and working conditions. These unions must be limited to the charter employees and separate from other bargaining units in the school districts, educational service districts, and institutions of higher education.

Nationally, 12% of charter schools have collective bargaining agreements with teachers unions. There are five states – Alaska, Hawaii, Iowa, Maryland, and Virginia that require charter schools to be unionized by law.

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500 Public Charter School Students and Parents Rally in Olympia February 25, 2016

More than 500 students, parents, educators and advocates (including LEV staff) representing Washington’s public charter schools traveled from across the state to Olympia to urge legislators to act quickly and vote to save Washington’s public charter schools for the long-term.  Here are photos from the event:

LEV Tri-Cities organizer Ruvine Jimenez preps public charter school students for the rally

LEV Tri-Cities organizer Ruvine Jimenez preps public charter school students for the rally

The Capitol is THAT way!

The Capitol is THAT way!

Assembling on the steps

Assembling on the steps

More students, parents, educators and advocates are still coming

More students, parents, educators and advocates are still coming

Students practice their chants for legislators

Students practice their chants for legislators

Many students created their own signs

Many students created their own signs

How often do you see students proclaiming how much they love their school?

How often do you see students proclaiming how much they love their school?

Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-37) gets the crowd fired up

Rep. Eric Pettigrew (D-37) gets the crowd fired up

Senator Mark Mullet (D-5) congratulates students for getting directly involved in democracy

Senator Mark Mullet (D-5) congratulates students for getting directly involved in democracy

A public charter schools teacher, student and parent tell their stories

A public charter schools teacher, student and parent tell their stories

Senator Joe Fain (R-47) shows his support for public charter schools

Senator Joe Fain (R-47) shows his support for public charter schools

Rep. Norma Smith (R-10) tells students that they represent the future of Washington state

Rep. Norma Smith (R-10) tells students that they represent the future of Washington state

The rally drew plenty of media coverage

The rally drew plenty of media coverage

Rep. Bob McCaslin (R-4) shares his experiences as a public school teacher

Rep. Bob McCaslin (R-4) shares his experiences as a public school teacher

Rep. Chad Magendanz (R-5) tells students he's confident legislators will vote to keep public charter schools open

Rep. Chad Magendanz (R-5) tells students he’s confident legislators will vote to keep public charter schools open

The rally heads up the Capitol steps...

The rally heads up the Capitol steps…

... and into the Capitol rotunda!

… and into the Capitol rotunda!

Cheers are much louder in a large marble hall

Cheers are much louder in a large marble hall

Legislators are listening

Legislators are listening

 

 

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Why a Charter School Opponent became a Charter School Parent

By Melissa Pailthorp, guest blogger

Melissa Pailthorp

Almost precisely one year ago, my daughter announced that she would not attend the traditional public high school we’d secured for her, rather, she wanted to attend Sierra Summit Public School, one of our state’s first charter schools.  I had voted no twice on charters.  I am generally pro-labor.  I’m adamant and actively committed to strengthening public schools through work on the levies campaign and serving on our other school’s PTSA board.  My daughter would be giving up one of our city’s destination public high schools with its strong academics, robust extra-curriculars and an amazing music program.  I think she’d probably thrive at that school.  She wanted a smaller institution and had found the inadvertent segregation of her middle school offensive and unfair, even if it worked okay for her.  I applauded her sense of justice, but still wasn’t sure that her inclination toward this choice was a good thing.

As we dug in, I learned a lot.  All charters in Washington must choose all students by blind lottery to allow opportunity for all.   All charters in Washington must be operated by nonprofit organizations.  They are not by definition anti-union (Washington’s charter law prevents this and Green Dot schools, the parent entity of Destiny School in Tacoma, are unionized).  They pay competitive salaries.  The pioneering educational leaders behind these schools are some of the state’s most committed, accomplished and well-regarded public school educators in the field.  Authorized charters have specific and aggressive accountability for student progress governed by their contract and consistent with state standards.  Moreover, the school my daughter chose had a proven model that worked for an incredible range of kids across seven different locations in California, evidenced by four-year college acceptance rates of more than 94% year on year.   Project-based and self-driven learning guide the curriculum, not the technology that helps deliver the content, although that technology enables both scale and teaching to individual kids as well as amazing collaboration between teachers across campuses.  My kid could attend a school where all kids – regardless of where they were when they came in the door – would be learning together in ways appropriate to each.  My kid would benefit hugely from truly and deeply engaging in the most diverse student body she’s ever encountered.  Having lived in south Seattle most of my life, both watching and participating in the multitude of efforts and machinations to improve struggling, segregated schools, I decided I was comfortable with – and proud of – my daughter’s decision to give Summit a go.

Fast forward one year and we find ourselves ensconced in a battle I never imagined would be part of our experience – and which I cannot help but support.  My advocacy is compelled by the constant refrain from political leaders across the spectrum who pledge their focus and devotion to closing the achievement gap, yet we continue to lead the nation in the disparities in our schools, impacting kids today.  It’s inspired by incredible academic growth now of many of my daughter’s peers who have never felt successful in school, and their caring families showing their commitment to these schools, while some decision makers defer action given the need to eventually (maybe next session) find the solution(s) to McCleary.  I’m appalled that instead of embracing and learning from the pedagogical models that are yielding early, incredible progress with the amazing spectrum of kids at these schools on a financial model that is feasible at public funding levels, we’re at risk of leaving a solution for charters on the legislative table.  We need broadly accessible, scaleable ways to successfully educate all our kids well, with consistency and coherence for families…so how can we not support these efforts?!!

It’s not fair to ask the kids and parents who simply want this option, one that works for their kids today, to endure status quo and wait for the day when things will be better – unless you’re willing to put your kid in the same situation as theirs.  I’m not.

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One Seattle Parent: Making A Non-Political Case For Charter Schools

This blog post originally was featured on Summit Voices.

By Linda Sikora

The issue of charter schools is our state’s newest political hotbed – if you’re “for” charters, you must be Republican and anti-teacher/anti-union, and if you’re “for” public schools, well then of course you’re Democrat and most assuredly can’t support charters.

All the rhetoric, all the vitriol, all the heated arguments supporting “your side” and demonizing the “other side” and all we do is stay locked in our positions and nothing ever happens, no positive change ensues – how could it?

I don’t claim to be particularly political; in fact, I consider myself to be pretty politically fluid as I’m willing to listen to both “sides” and settle where my inner sense guides me. Sometimes it’s “left”, sometimes it’s “right”, but it’s always right…for me. I find it oddly curious how we divide ourselves, and I often just sit back and observe the antics, wondering what a different way could look like.

And I certainly don’t consider myself to be an education expert or even well-versed in the issues. But you know what? I support charter schools and here’s why. No “side” convinced me, the children did. I sat and listened and looked in their eyes, and I knew this is the kind of change our children need. I visited Summit Sierra High School, a charter school in the Chinatown International District that opened this year and is serving its inaugural ninth grade class; a school that in its infancy, is wondering if its doors will be shuttered and their children thrown to the wind. Sure, we sat and listened to the administrators talk about their advantages and their approach; of course they would toot their own horns. But then we got to go into the classrooms and observe and sit with the children and ask questions and talk with them. In each classroom, I observed a microcosm of our planet, beautifully diverse, with small groups of these children within the classroom context, communicating, brainstorming, working together and collaborating.

But the “ah-ha” moment for me was in Spanish class when I was talking to two of the students who were working on their project together. The boy was effervescent and outgoing and telling me great things about this class and how they worked and how it was different. His project partner, a girl, was very quiet and hesitant to speak, eyes downcast. I asked her how this school was different. And she looked me right in the eye and her eyes lit up, she engaged and she started talking to me about MATH. How, in her old school she was so far behind and the teacher would just stand up in front of the class and lecture and then give you tests, which she failed, but she didn’t know how to understand it or improve. And then when she came to Summit, her teacher and her mentor (yes, each child at Summit has a mentor they work with on individualized learning plans – and this mentor stays with them until they graduate) worked with her and they discovered that she learned differently than the other kids, so instead of teaching her oneway that was not her way, they allowed her to learn in her own way. They taught to that specific child. And guess what? She said she’s now ahead in math, but more importantly, she told me she used to hate going to school, but now she wakes up every morning and can’t wait to go!

I know there are funding issues and administration issues and legislative issues and union issues…all the “yeah buts” that people stake their positions on so vehemently. Here’s my “yeah but” – I wish we could channel that passion differently, I wish the “opposed” people could have the experience I had today…to see a child’s eyes light up and watch her confidence emerge. It was one of those soft, seminal moments in my life. In that moment, I knew this child’s life, her trajectory, could completely change. Sometimes, the biggest changes start small – one child at a time, one school at a time. We can figure this out, people.

Please don’t close these schools.

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LEV applauds WA state’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s request to the Washington Supreme Court to reconsider its public charter school ruling

The League of Education Voters applauds Washington state’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s request to the Washington Supreme Court to reconsider its ruling declaring public charter schools unconstitutional.

As the Attorney General pointed out, the Court’s ruling goes even beyond public charter schools, and calls into question the constitutionality of other public education programs, like Running Start and Tribal Compact Schools.

In 2012, voters made Washington the 42nd state to allow public charter schools. We hope the Supreme Court will act to not overturn the voice of the voters of Washington state. If not, the legislature must step in to fulfil the will of the voters.

Parents from Seattle to Spokane have made the choice for their nearly 1,300 students that public charter schools are the best education option for their child. Whether it’s the Supreme Court or the Legislature, courageous actions must be taken to ensure the nine public charter schools continue to operate, student’s learning doesn’t get disrupted and this public school choice remains a future option for parents and students across the state.

Along with Attorney General Ferguson, former Attorney Generals Rob McKenna, Chris Gregoire, Ken Eikenberry and Slade Gorton disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling.

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Former Gov. Gregoire calls court ruling on charters “Not right. Not fair”

This morning former Washington state Governor and former Attorney General Chris Gregoire was interviewed by KING 5 and gave her views on the Supreme Court’s charter school decision and McCleary. Below are some excerpts from the interview. See the interview here (charter school and education discussion starts at 7:49)

On the Supreme Court’s charter school ruling:
“As a lawyer and Attorney General I’m surprised at the majority opinion. I think the minority opinion on that case is spot on.”

“Even more surprising to me than the outcome of the case is the timing of it. The case had sat before the court for some time and then it issues its opinion on the eve of when these students are going to go to school. These parents are expecting their students to go to these schools.”

“The court has to be aware of the implications of a decision like this and what it means to the children and the families when they have their children all scheduled to go to school and then are put on a moments notice that your kid has no place to go. Not right. Not fair,”

On McCleary:
“We’ve got a long way to go to fully fund education as defined by the legislature in a bill that I signed as Governor. No question about it. They made good progress this last legislative session. I want to give them credit, but I find it unprecedented that they’ve held the legislature in contempt when the deadline has not yet hit.”

“The legislature needs to use its process to get the job done. I’m leaning on the legislature. The court needs to understand the separation of the branches of government and understand that to hold them in contempt while they still haven’t met the deadline is unprecedented in the country.”

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Rainier Prep

As our students prepare to head back to school, the League of Education Voters is highlighting a few of the new public charter schools opening this fall. We recently sat down with Rainier Prep’s founding leader Maggie O’Sullivan to hear about the school’s opening.

Students work with a teacher. Photo courtesy of Rainier Prep.School begins at Rainier Prep on September 1 for students in grades 5 and 6. Based in the Highline area of Seattle, Rainier Prep’s mission is to prepare all students to excel at four-year colleges and become leaders in their communities. At full capacity, Rainier Prep will serve grades 5-8.

Rainier Prep will use a model of inquiry- and project-based learning that complements college readiness curriculum. It all comes back to the people, however, according to school founder Maggie O’Sullivan: “The number one difference at Rainier Prep is our teachers and our staff.” (more…)

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Spokane International Academy

As our students prepare to head back to school, the League of Education Voters is highlighting a few of the new public charter schools opening this fall. We recently sat down with Spokane International Academy’s founding director Travis Franklin to hear about the school’s opening.

Students enter their classroom at Spokane International Academy.School began at Spokane International Academy on August 26 for students in kindergarten and in grades 1 and 6. Spokane International Academy’s mission is to “empower students with the academic skills, habits of mind and global competence necessary to complete advanced courses in high school and a four-year college degree in order to become leaders who can powerfully transform their communities in the future.” At full capacity, Spokane International Academy will serve grades K–8.

Spokane International Academy is a Cambridge International School and uses VIF International Learning curriculum, along with an inquiry-based learning model, to develop student global understanding and competence. Students will also learn Spanish as they progress through the school, and their parents will have the opportunity learn alongside them at no cost. Plans are also in the works to take students on international trips to Latin America. (more…)

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