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Activist of the Month: WA Charters

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WA Charters is the April Activist of the Month

To save public charter schools in the 2016 legislative session, LEV partnered with the Washington State Charter School Association.  It took a whole lot of people to do the job.  And many stepped up repeatedly to make a call or a bunch of calls, sign a petition or send an email.

Below are some statistics on what WA Charters’ Act Now for Washington Students campaign accomplished.  There is no doubt that this campaign had an incredibly robust grassroots effort that was organized, efficient, and one that made an incredible impact on legislators.

The campaign did the following:

From February 8 through March 10, at least ten callers every day made 15 calls each.  And other calls happened organically.  These calls were made in Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, East King County, Pasco, Yakima and Walla Walla for a total of 8105 calls.

WA Charters also organized two rallies in Olympia.  The November 11 rally brought 400 people on campus and the February 25 rally brought 575 people to the state Capitol.

Approximately 45 people testified in the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education committee, 70 people testified in the Senate Ways and Means committee and 90 people testified in the House Education committee.

Two parents attended 74 meetings with legislators.

At least five parents visited the state Capitol every day from February 29 to March 9.

Parents made and delivered four dozen cookies to 15 legislative offices.

Parents created and delivered over 300 session survival kits.

Parents created and delivered nearly 200 Thank You kits to legislative aids.

WA Charters mailed over 300 holiday cards to legislative offices and mailed over 300 Valentine’s Day cards to legislative offices.

Parents organically organized six big phone bank nights.

Hundreds of phone calls a day went to the Governor’s office since March 10, the day the bill was passed in the Senate.  These calls were made from parents, students, family members and tireless advocates from Seattle, East King County, Pasco, Yakima, Spokane and Tacoma.

Finally, 300 letters were signed and mailed from Yakima asking Governor to sign public charter schools Senate Bill 6194.

LEV would like to extend a huge Thank You to the Washington State Charter School Association and the thousands of volunteers who stepped up for our kids.  We couldn’t have done it without you!

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Activist of the Month: Darcelina Soloria

March 2016 Activist of the Month Darcelina Soloria

March 2016 Activist of the Month Darcelina Soloria

Darcelina Soloria met LEV Policy Director Amy Liu in October 2015 after Amy sent out public charter school information to parents.  Darcelina was moved to take action and led a phone bank effort in December, organizing 15 people who each made 10 calls in a single night.

Since then, Darcelina has led 5 more phone bank events where she encouraged fellow volunteers to make 15 calls each time, urging legislators to support a fix for public charter schools.

Darcelina’s own public school education went without a hitch until high school, where she was able to pass algebra only because of help from a classmate.  Her math teacher was emotionally unavailable and did not offer any extra support.  She also did not know how to write a paper.

As you can imagine, Darcelina was paralyzed when she started community college.  But thanks to instructors that were a better fit, she surprised herself by earning an A in English.  She transferred to 4-year institution right out of community college and continued her upward learning trajectory with an A in English 101 out of the gate.

Darcelina realized her troubles in high school weren’t her fault – she just didn’t have the right teachers to match her learning style.  Now she has an accounting degree.

Darcelina and her husband hadn’t planned on having children.  When she found out she was pregnant with her son, it was a big surprise.  She started thinking about educational options but lived in Hillyard, a Spokane neighborhood not associated with good public schools.  And she couldn’t afford private school.

When looking at kindergarten prospects, Darcelina thought about Montessori but found Spokane International Academy, a public charter school that opened in Hillyard last year to help that historically underserved community.  Darcelina applied and was thrilled when her son got in.

Darcelina appreciates the school’s focus in on kids and how they learn.  She also is impressed by SIA Head of School Travis Franklin’s goal of helping students become community-minded and globally-oriented.

In kindergarten, her son is now speaking Spanish and writing papers.  When he started, he was at pre-K level.  By the time he gets to 8th grade, Darcelina believes he will have a clear understanding of how he can become a great citizen locally, statewide and globally.

Darcelina and her son don’t want to see their school taken away.  Darcelina says, “If we look at charters as a learning environment, why don’t we roll them out in other places?  These are pockets of where we can learn how to better teach our kids.”

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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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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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