Washington state, ahead of the national curve in so many areas of public policy, is a notable laggard on the issue of charter schools. Washington finally joined 41 other states and the District of Columbia in authorizing the schools last November, when voters narrowly approved Initiative 1240.
And a narrow victory it was. Voters statewide gave it a 50.69 percent yes vote, a victory margin of just over 40,000 votes out of more than 3 million cast. Yakima County’s approval percentage was only slightly better: 51.53 percent yes, or by about 2,300 votes out of approximately 75,000 cast. The vote was fairly evenly split in each of the state’s 39 counties, defying the east-west, rural-urban divide that defines most elections in Washington. The victory came after four defeats, the first in 1996.
A charter school is a public school that is open to all students but operates independently of district management and administrative rules. Initiative 1240 is a targeted approach, more of a pilot program, with tight guidelines and accountability measures. It allows for a maximum of eight schools a year to a total of 40 in the next five years — out of a statewide total of more than 2,300 public schools.
Nonprofit organizations or school district boards could set them up; there will be no religious charter schools. A new state agency, the Charter School Commission, is now accepting applications, and it stands to get at least two from the Yakima Valley.