State’s charter school law among nation’s best, report says

OLYMPIA — The charter school law approved by voters in November is one of the country’s best in its embrace of the publicly funded, privately run schools, according to a new national report.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ranked Washingtons law as the third strongest of those in place in the states, which allow for the alternate form of educating students with public funds. Washington trailed only Minnesota and Maine in the fourth annual ranking by the national organization.

Part of the reason is the language in Initiative 1240, which the state’s voters narrowly passed, hews closely to most of the elements in the model charter school law developed by the national group.

As a result, charters in this state could wind operating with as much or more flexibility, access to funding and accountability than is now taking place in 41 other states and the District of Columbia.

“Washington took strong advantage of the lessons learned from other states on strong authorizing, oversight and accountability. We will be leading with quality,” said Lisa Macfarlane, director of Democrats for Education Reform, in a statement released by the national alliance.

The report scores each of the charter school laws on how they stack up against 20 components deemed essential by the national charter school group.

States score well by not limiting the number of schools, requiring charter contracts to include performance measures and writing clear rules for revoking charters of schools that fail to comply.

Other components seek to ensure students can participate in interscholastic sports, schools can access public funds for buildings and they also are able to operate free of many existing local and state education mandates.

The two major weaknesses of Washington’s law are its cap of no more than 40 charter schools in the initial five years and a relatively small number of provisions for supporting the facility needs of start-up charters, according to the report.

Todd Ziebarth, vice president of state advocacy and support for the national group, issued a statement saying the new state law puts in place major pieces for ensuring charter schools perform well in the future.

“Washington now needs to focus on effectively implementing its law, which puts a premium on strong authorizing and accountability,” said Ziebarth, who wrote the report.

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623; jcornfield@heraldnet.com

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