By Donna Gordon Blankinship Associated Press
SEATTLE — Washington state’s new Charter School Commission opened the statewide application process for charter schools on Monday.
The first step in the process is an Oct. 22 deadline for submitting a letter of intent to apply to open a school.
Then potential charter operators have until Nov. 22 to submit their applications. The commission plans to hold public hearings on the applications before announcing its decision by Feb. 24.
Washington voters last year approved a new state law that allows up to 40 charters to open over the next five years, or about eight of the new public schools a year.
The Spokane School District also is starting a process to potentially approve charter schools within district boundaries by the end of February. Other districts that want to become authorizers have until Oct. 1 to tell the State Board of Education they plan to apply next year.
The commission is hoping to see applications from a mix of Washington organizations and out-of-state groups with charter school experience, said Trish Millines Dziko, a member of the statewide commission and executive director of the Technology Access Foundation.
She cautioned however that the application turn-around is short and the requirements relatively deep, so the commission is not expecting a flood of applications during the first year of the new process.
“If they haven’t been codifying their model since at least six months ago, it might be pretty tough,” Dziko said.
Her advice to applicants: Be thorough on every section, get critical feedback from someone outside your group, and make sure your application says how you will recruit and support at-risk students.
“There’s a rubric. Everybody knows what they’re going to be graded on,” she added.
Charter school opponents have challenged the constitutionality of the new law and have filed a lawsuit to stop charter schools from opening in Washington. Opponents say the system would improperly divert public school dollars to private organizations that are not subject to voter control.
Proponents believe charter schools will offer new options for parents and students and improve education outcomes for all. Some believe the new public schools will help close achievement gaps by offering better learning environments for low-income and minority students.
Charter schools are independently managed public schools that are operated by approved nonprofit organizations. They are free and open to all students. They will receive state funding based on student enrollment like other public schools, but will not be required to follow all the same state laws.