Parents, Students, Advocates to House Education Committee: “Please Save Our Schools”

For Immediate Release | February 19, 2016

OLYMPIA — More than 75 public charter school parents, students, community leaders and advocates traveled from across the state to Olympia today to support Senate Bill 6194, a bipartisan bill that would save public charter schools in Washington State and reflect the will of the voters. The House Education Committee heard the proposed legislation, which the Senate chamber approve with bipartisan support two weeks ago. The future of the more than 1,100 students currently enrolled in public charter schools and of thousands of families statewide awaiting the quality educational options promised to them by the public charter school initiative in 2012 now rests in the hands of the legislators.  During today’s hearing, the House Education Committee, chaired by Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos (D – Seattle), listened to impassioned testimony from public charter school parents, community leaders, and students, whose accounts illustrated how Washington’s nonprofit-run public charter schools are meeting the needs of historically underserved students and showcased the great demand for high-quality public charter school options for their communities, particularly communities of color impacted by poverty in Washington.  Sixth grade student Heskiyas Wondaferew urged legislators to keep schools open for him, for his fellow classmates and for students younger than him: “I am standing here in front of you asking humbly to not take such a great education away. Our future lies in your hands. This education promises me and the rest of charter school students an excellent future full of success. I know by the time I graduate from Excel, I will become a solid young man…so please, why take this away from us? Shouldn’t that be unconstitutional?”  Wondaferew attends Excel Middle School at Excel Public Charter School in Kent, where sixth-graders entered, on average, two grade levels behind in reading, while seventh-graders entered, on average, three grade levels behind in reading. Interim assessment data shows that Excel students are now on track to make one and a half years of growth in reading in a single school year, while simultaneously learning to code and playing an instrument in the school’s orchestra.  In addition to current parents and students from public charter schools, the House Committee on Education heard testimony from advocates and parents from communities yet to open a public charter school under the voter approved law, who testified about the importance of reinstating the charter law to reflect the what the voters wanted: access to innovative schools for every community.  “The Yakima valley, the Tri-Cities area, and other regions of our state voted in favor of public charter schools in 2012 because our kids need additional public school options,” said Ed Pacheco, father of a seven-year-old girl and Yakima, WA, resident.  Latino voters – along with people of color – voted for the public charter initiative in high numbers because we also want access to high quality schools.”  The bill is now in the hands of the members of the House Education Committee, which will decide whether to move the bill forward. The final day of the short legislative session is March 11, leaving members just 19 days to pass this critical legislation to keep local, nonprofit-run public school doors open and many of Washington’s historically underserved students on a path to success.  About Act Now for Washington StudentsAct Now for Washington Students is a student and parent led coalition founded in partnership with Democrats for Education Reform, the League of Education Voters, Stand for Children, the Washington State Charter Schools Association, and WA Charters Action, and is dedicated to ensuring that parent, student and voter voices are elevated in the fight to keep public schools open and serving students.  About Washington’s Public ChartersWashington’s public charter schools are helping to close the education equity gap. More than two-thirds of students in public charter schools are from low-income families and more than 70 percent are students of color. Allowing public charter schools to close down will disproportionately affect families who turned to charters because their child’s needs were not being met.  The state’s existing public charter schools were created after voters passed a law in 2012 calling for more public school options for Washington families. In some communities, traditional public schools are meeting the needs of local students. But in other communities – particularly communities of color that struggle with poverty – they are not. In Washington, African American, Latino and Native American students are scoring between 15-20 percent lower on state assessments. According to mid-year assessment results, students at Washington’s public charter schools are making impressive gains in reading and math, with some already having grown multiple grade levels in half a school year.