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Federal Government Invests in WA Charter Public Schools

For Immediate Release | Thursday, September 29, 2016
Contact: Maggie Meyers at (724) 263-9826 or

Federal Government Invests in Washington’s Innovative Charter Public Schools

Department of Education Awards State Three-Year Grants for Growing Charter Public School Movement Following Passing of New Law

Seattle, Wash. — The U.S. Department of Education (US DOE) announced Wednesday it has awarded the State of Washington a grant through the US DOE’s Charter Schools Program (CSP), which provides funding for high-quality public charter schools. This three-year, $6,973,684 award will support the development and growth of new, high-quality charter public schools across the state. The investment comes as the state’s operating charter public schools are re-opening their doors for the 2016-17 school year.

Notably, Willow Public School, a charter public school incubated by the Washington State Charter Schools Association (WA Charters) set to open in Walla Walla in Fall 2017, is eligible to receive up to $785,000 of CSP support over the next three years.

“We are thrilled that the federal government has expressed great confidence in Washington’s new law and the quality of our state’s growing charter public school sector,” remarked Tom Franta, CEO of WA Charters. “This is a significant investment in our charter public schools over the next three years, and will provide much-needed resources to our successful, innovative public schools.”

The State’s award will support Washington’s Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI), the State Board of Education (SBE), the State Charter School Commission, and Spokane Public Schools in efforts to increase the number of high-quality charter public schools in Washington. The grant will support three main objectives: (1) providing sub-grants to approved charter schools for planning and implementation; (2) supporting capacity development of charter school leaders and board members; and (3) providing technical assistance, training, and resources for charter school authorizers. In meeting these objectives, the federal funds will extend the reach and deepen the impact of Washington’s innovative schools to thousands more students in communities across the state, specifically those with historically limited access to high-quality public schools in their area.

Specifically, CSP funding will be used to support one-time startup costs like desks, chairs, and whiteboards; such support is all the more critical during a new school’s initial three years given the continued underfunding of basic education in Washington, as described in the ongoing McCleary litigation. WA Charters is committed to working in partnership with OSPI, the SBE, the Commission and Spokane Public Schools to ensure that schools—and Washington families—get maximum benefit as a direct result of these awarded funds.

The State’s investment of CSP funds in Willow Public School over the next three years will allow the school to plan, design, and implement their program specifically designed to meet the needs of their projected student population. Willow projects that at least 72 percent of its student population will be living in poverty, and least 32 percent of their students will be English language learners.

“We are so excited that the Department of Education and the State see the great merit in our model,” said Dan Calzaretta, founding Executive Director of Willow Public School. “This investment will allow Willow Public School to move from a dream to a reality as we enter our planning year, and our first two years of operation.” Willow’s program is focused on personalization, interventions, project-based learning, restorative discipline, trauma-informed practices, and community connections.

The Washington state charter school movement has faced significant challenges in its short history, despite broad support from Washington voters and state legislature. A funding glitch triggered a ruling by the Washington State Supreme Court that found the state’s former voter-approved charter school law to be unconstitutional. Then, an updated Charter Schools Act garnered bipartisan support and became law in April 2015, reinstating the state’s eight operating charter public schools. Three new charter public schools are set to open in 2017: Willow Public School in Walla Walla, Green Dot Public Schools’ second Washington school in South Seattle, and Summit Public Schools’ third campus in West Seattle.

About Washington’s Public Charter Schools
Charter schools are a type of public school, approved and overseen by a state or district authorizer. Like all public schools, they do not charge tuition, they are open to all students, and they are publicly funded. However, charter public schools are held more accountable for showing improved student achievement. In exchange for greater accountability, teachers and principals are given more flexibility to customize their teaching methods and curriculum to improve student learning.

Washington’s charter public schools are helping to close the education equity gap. A majority of charter public school students in Washington are students of color, as compared to 43 percent statewide, and a majority of charter public school students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals, as compared to 45 percent statewide.

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 2015-16 mid-year and end-of-year assessment results, students at Washington’s charter public schools are making impressive gains in reading and math.