Vote yes on I-729 to offer students new opportunities


Voters on Nov. 7 will have the chance to make significant changes in how public-school students are educated in Washington state.

Initiative 728 would lower class sizes.

Initiative 732 would provide teachers with annual cost-of-living raises.

And Initiative 729 would allow a limited number of charter public schools to promote new kinds of learning opportunities – because not all students learn in the same way.

So what are charter public schools? First, let me explain what they are not.

Charter public schools are not private schools. They cannot charge tuition. They can have no religious affiliation. They cannot give entrance exams so that only certain students get in. They cannot discriminate in any way: not on the basis of race, religion, national origin, gender, proficiency in the English language, athletic ability or disabling condition.

By law, charter public schools must admit students on a first-come basis — within the school district in which they were located. If more students applied than the school could accommodate, there would be a lottery.

Charter public schools cannot take money from the public-school system and will not raise taxes. Because state support for education is based on per-pupil enrollment, the money follows the student. And if parents send their children to a charter public school, then that money logically will go to the school he or she attends.

So if that’s what they are not, what are they? They provide additional educational choices within the public school system. The goal is to remove some administrative restraints — like mandated starting times or length of the school day — to promote innovation and learning. The schools operate with a charter, or contract, that must be approved by the local school board or four-year state university.

The charter spells out how the school will operate, what will be taught, how success will be measured and what students will be expected to achieve. And it holds the schools accountable for meeting the requirements. If the schools do not perform as their charter requires, the school district or university can close them.

Charter public schools are usually started by parents, teachers or community leaders. The schools are run by a non-profit board but are ultimately responsible to the elected school board or university trustees. They must have audited financial statements and issue an annual report to parents and their sponsor.

Accountability to the taxpayers and the elected school boards will never be compromised with I-729.

Students must take the same standardized tests and meet all the new, requirements passed by the state legislature. Teachers must have state certification.

We believe this is a reasonable approach to a new and growing idea in education, and one that will help the public schools by providing additional support and choice, while keeping parents and students within the system.

Let me answer some of the arguments often brought up by those who oppose charter schools.

Q. Would charters attract only wealthy students?

A. In fact, the opposite is true. The U.S. Department of Education has found that charter schools in other states enroll low-income and minority students at a high rate. Many charter schools have started aimed specifically at students with special needs, such as the hearing impaired or vision impaired. The National Urban League actually sponsors some charter schools.

Q. Does this constitute "giving up" on general improvement of public schools and providing good schools just for those who actively go after them?

A. Not at all. We believe charters will help local school districts to encourage innovation in all schools.

Q. Are they accountable?

A. They may even be more accountable than other public schools. Not only must they have their charters approved and periodically evaluated by the local school board or state university, they must be accountable every day to parents and students. They are required to have a five-year financial plan. If the parent or student is displeased with a charter school, they can choose to go back to the traditional public school.

Q. Is it true charters would cost the state $16 million because they would attract kids from private schools and those who are home schooled back into the system?

A. This is my favorite argument of all, because it concedes charter schools would attract students. Shouldn’t we want to bring more students into the system?

Our state has set high standards for all kids, and we need lots of options to get them there. Teachers need to be freed from regulations that prevent them from running the schools they know would meet families’ needs. Some kids may flourish in an arts-based program; others may thrive in a smaller, more personalized high school. Charter public schools offer an innovative way to do this within the public school system without new taxes. Vote yes on Initiative 729.

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