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Editorial: Lawmakers should help others help charters

Jun 11, 2014 | News, Opinion, Updates

The Spokesman-Review
June 10, 2014

When Washington approves a charter school, it doesn’t come with a check. By the time the first eight have opened their doors – most in August 2015 – supporters of each may have ventured as much as $2 million for curriculum materials, equipment and, most importantly, a building students can call home.

The schools do not receive any state money until Oct. 1, a month after they have opened and have firm enrollment numbers they can file in Olympia. They will receive the same amount per student as regular schools, which have no startup costs.

Nor do public schools need money to support cash flow during the early months when state payments will not keep up with spending.

Foundation grants will help, but charter schools will need more support prior to opening to assure prospective parents and teachers they are dealing with a real school with real assets, not just a vision.

The state might not be able to provide the startup capital the schools need, but it can encourage others to do so.

Washington offers businesses credits against their business & occupation tax obligations if they contribute to a few select programs. The credit for film and television production that lawmakers allowed to lapse in 2011, then renewed, may be the best-known example.

Businesses can contribute as much as $1 million to a $3.5 million fund that Washington Filmworks awards for film and television production. Spokane’s North by Northwest Productions has been a major beneficiary, and has been able to employ dozens of actors and technicians as a result.

A $1.5 million Main Street Tax Credit Program, which supports community beautification efforts, allows donors to credit either 75 percent or 50 percent of B&O or utilities taxes, depending on whether the money goes to a local or state Main Street Community.

And a third program helps employers offset 50 percent to the cost of employee training.

This is a model that would work well for charter schools that can benefit the state as much if not more than the programs assisted by the credits.

Individuals associated with some of the biggest businesses in Washington, including Microsoft and Amazon, were among the strongest supporters of Initiative 1240 in 2012. Those businesses and others do not avoid paying taxes by financing movie-making or charter schools – their obligation to the state is unchanged – but a credit would encourage them to materially support the innovation in education they say they want.

Schools affiliated with multi-state charter organizations may not need the help, but the PRIDE Prep School of Technology and Science that will be Spokane’s first charter school does. So do other home-grown efforts that have the deepest roots in the community, and know best the students they intend to serve.

I-1240 calls for the opening of 40 charter schools in five years. All should have the chance to prove they can fulfill their mission, but not all will if they cannot bootstrap themselves to sustainability. Lawmakers should give these schools every chance to succeed, and consider credits that could fund grants or loans to help make sure they do.

Read the full editorial.