Oct. 23 Daily News editorial
Whether or not to allow charter schools isn't the major K-12 education issue facing Washington. The state's biggest challenge is how to fully fund education, as the state's Supreme Court directed in its McGeary decision earlier this year.
Still, charter schools have numerous advantages — and some troubling aspects. A divided Editorial Board finds that the pros outweigh the cons, so we recommend passage of Initiative 1240 on the Nov. 6 ballot.
The initiative would allow up to 40 charter schools to be instituted statewide over the next five years. Compared to the 2,325 public schools that exist now, it would be a small number of charter schools.
The need for educational innovation is large, however, with study after study showing that too many students don't graduate from Washington high schools or, if they do, are poorly prepared for higher education.
Charter schools won't be a panacea for improving student performance, but they could be another tool in the box of ideas to strengthen teaching.
Washington is one of only nine states in the country don't allow charter schools, putting us in a league with Kentucky, Alabama and North Dakota.
One of the advantages for I-1240 supporters is being able to learn from experiences of the 41 states that do allow charter schools. Studies have shown that the major factor in charter school success is how well they're regulated, and the proposed Washington law would be on the strict side.
For instance, charter school teachers here would have to be certified in the same way as other public school teachers (unlike their counterparts at private schools).
Washington charter schools would be operated by nonprofit entities. No religious schools would be allowed. A charter school system isn't the same as school vouchers, under which public money can indeed be used for private and religious schools.
Charter schools in other states have been accused of cherry-picking the best students, leaving other schools with the most challenging students. I-1240, however, gives priority to at-risk students. It's worth noting that the charter school movement grew out of frustration with the educational gap between higher income and lower income kids.
Despite fears that charter schools would siphon off money from other public schools, this wouldn't occur any more than if a school district builds a new school, or a student moves to new city, and state funding follows him or her to it.
There would be additional expense (estimated at $3 million) to set up the mechanism to oversee charter schools and to revoke their charters if indeed they aren't successful. However, we'll note that it's much harder to close an underperforming traditional public school.
What's appealing about charter schools is their flexibility. They can have longer school days or night classes. This might be one reason that teachers' unions and Washington's Superintendent of Public Instruction are opposing them. In most other states, charter schools are not unionized, but all the charter schools in four states indeed are 100 percent unionized.
There's no guarantee a charter school would be established in Cowlitz County. However, with our relatively high number of low-income students, we seem like a likely candidate for one.
Washington voters opposed initiatives that would have allowed charter schools in 1994, 1996 and 2004. Students' needs have only grown more urgent since then. Given the limited, introductory nature of this measure, we hope the fourth time's a charm.