Initiative 1240 would allow Washington to participate in a small educational experiment. It would allow creation of 40 charter schools over five years, or eight new schools per year. They would be public schools subject to all the pertinent state regulations and academic requirements, but they would be otherwise autonomous, more capable of innovation and change.
This will not be a panacea for the many ailments of Washington’s public education system, but neither will it bring us to the eve of destruction as opponents suggest. The scope is narrow; the number of schools limited. But charter schools will increase the options in some communities. They will ease the process of finding what new ideas work and what ideas do not. In a small and limited way they will inject new possibilities into an entrenched system where changing direction is like steering an iceberg.
Charter schools are public schools managed independently. They will be free. They will not be allowed to charge tuition. They will not be run by religious organizations or engage in religious instruction. They may not discriminate. They will be open to any student in the state, completely voluntary, and students will be chosen by lottery, not academic performance or another exclusive standard. Preference will be given to schools serving at-risk students. Teachers will be certified as teachers are in any school. The schools will be funded on a per-pupil basis, local levies passed after their creation, and whatever fundraising efforts their supporters can muster, like all other schools. Administrative expenses will be limited. They will be overseen by the local school board or a state commission. They will meet all the state’s requirements for testing, and will be reviewed annually and made to show progress toward specified goals.
Opponents say charter schools are often academically inferior, which from most studies appears to be untrue. They are said to be a destructive drain on school finances, but that’s difficult to see considering they will receive funding only for the students attending them. Administrators may be beyond school board control and teachers outside the local union and its agreements, but those are problems for adults, not students. And, there won’t be many charter schools to magnify these problems, real or imagined.
There are 41 other states with charter school laws and by most accounts disasters are few. Washington is an outlier. We expect if this initiative passes the change it brings will be difficult to see from this vantage point. We know of no clamoring for charters locally. But there is no persuasive reason not to give them a try. Vote yes on Initiative 1240.