I didn’t have the most conventional childhood. As an Army brat, home was all over the country – from Nevada to Tennessee, and a bunch of places in between. Since I never spent more than a couple years at any school, I didn’t have a lot of guidance from my teachers. That all changed when we settled in Washington state my freshman year.
Unlike some of my friends, college had not been driven into my head from an early age – my parents did not have access to higher education – but they instilled in me a strong work ethic that’s led me to where I am today: ready to receive my high school diploma as part of the first graduating class of Summit Olympus, a public charter high school in Tacoma. Read More
56 percent of Washington’s 3,400 charter public school students come from low-income households, as compared to 42 percent statewide.
60 percent of students identify as students of color, as compared to 46 percent statewide.
15 percent of students receive special education services, as compared to the statewide average of 14 percent.
Today, all these students learned that they can stay in the school of their choice.
Washington’s charter public schools continue to serve higher-than-average percentages of students impacted by inequities.
Today the Washington Supreme Court has given families with students in charter public schools new hope by affirming that their schools will continue to be a valuable part of our state’s public education system.
I remember reading the disheartening news about the Washington’s state Supreme Court decision to overturn the legality of charter schools in 2015 from afar. I was aghast. At the time, I was living and working in the K-12 education space in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, but I was closely following the developments in Washington for several reasons:
Public opinion had spoken in favor of charter public schools: Washington voters had passed Initiative 1240, an initiative designed to establish a charter public school sector in Washington.
Washington’s charter law was strong: Washington legislators had taken advantage of the 41 other states that had authorized charters to create best-in-class statutes and regulations to govern charter schools and their growth across the state.
There was strong demand from parents, who were expressing the urgent need for high-quality public school options for their children: Over 1,000 students and families eagerly enrolled to attend new charters in Seattle, Tacoma, and Spokane.
High quality school leaders were leading the movement: You would be hard pressed to find any state in the country starting off with a stronger group of pioneering leaders than in Washington. An army of educational leaders from across the state and country joined forces to make a bold vision for Washington’s new public school sector a reality.
These seemed like the right conditions for a strong charter sector that would respond to Washington’s educational inequities and provide struggling students with new, high-quality, and innovative school models… Read More
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.
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?
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.
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:
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 educateall 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.
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.
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.