Editor's Note: The following is an op-ed piece. View the Yes on 1240 op-ed here.
Washington State has voted on the issue of charter schools three times in the last 16 years and each time voters have said no. The last time was in 2004, so you might ask, has anything changed since then for charter school outcomes?
The answer is no — the promise of charter schools goes largely unfulfilled, both in outcomes and accountability. In academic outcomes, only 17% of charter schools do better than traditional schools. The federal government reports that more than half of their charter authorizers report difficulty in closing low-performing charters.
With scarce education dollars, we need to invest in what works well, not sporadically.
Washington state does not fund our K–12 schools at even the national average. The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that the Legislature is not fully funding our existing schools.
How will thinning the pot of money for our existing schools and bringing in more underfunded schools help Washington state public education?
It is important to understand that what is written in I-1240 is what will be the law for our state. Also to note — this is NOT a pilot program.
This initiative is poorly written and offers no real hope to at-risk students or any real parent engagement. The Washington State PTA has rejected it as well as many other community groups like NAACP, El Centro de la Raza, and the League of Women Voters.
What’s in I-1240?
- The new Charter Commission is politically selected and once selected, has no oversight by anyone, elected or not.
- It has the very controversial “trigger” that would allow a charter to take over any existing school, failing or not, with a majority of signatures on a petition signed by parents or teachers. If you have 18 teachers in an elementary school, just 10 of them could sign a petition and upend an entire school community. The charter would take over that school building, rent-free, and the district would have to continue to pay major maintenance.
- It has no mandate for charters to provide transportation. This is key to the idea of more choice for parents. That choice is negated if poor parents have no way to get their child to a charter school.
- Charters consistently underserve Special Ed, ELL and homeless students, leaving those high-need, high-cost students to traditional schools.
So if not charters, what? Washington state is not standing still:
- The Legislature passed two Innovation Schools laws in the last two years.
- A new teacher assessment system is to come online this year.
- The Legislature passed a Lighthouse School law to provide more science/technology focus for schools.
- Tacoma’s Lincoln Center is a high school within a high school just for at-risk kids that that has closed the achievement gap.
- The Roadmap for Education project for at-risk students in southeast Seattle and south King County is getting tremendous support including from the Gates Foundation.
- Rainier Beach High School’s determined PTA has worked hard to bring great change to its school, so much so that this summer, President Obama presented their PTA president, Carlina Brown, one of just 12 Champions of Change awards.
We need to fully fund our schools with special attention to supports for at-risk and struggling students. It’s not “just throwing more money at the problem” — it’s about funding schools for what we know works.
For example, about eight years ago in Everett, they had a dismal 53% graduation rate. They hired four graduation specialists and they now have an 80% graduation rate. This high graduation rate is also true for Tukwila and Renton, and all are diverse districts.
This is where the real discussion belongs — around fully funding our existing schools and not in spending education dollars on an unproven charter system that only creates more bureaucracy and not results.
These are our neighborhood schools in districts that parents work hard to support. We need the dollars to stay in our existing schools and for Washington State K–12 public education to be fully funded.
We urge your consideration for a No vote on 1240.
Melissa Westbrook, Chair, No On 1240, www.no1240.org
Rosslyn Shea, Seattle Schools parent
Sandi Strong, Tacoma Schools parent