January 29, 2020
The Seattle Times | Neal Morton
Charter schools are new to Washington state. How strong is the law behind them?
With one year left for the state to authorize new charter schools, a national ranking of charter-school laws placed Washington’s near the top.
This week, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools released a list of how states stack up against what it considers a “gold standard” model for charter-school laws. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, which advocates on behalf of charter-school operators, graded each state on 21 different measures, such as how much funding charter schools get in comparison to traditional public schools and accountability rules included in the authorizing law.
Charter schools in Washington are publicly funded but privately run. They operate independently of locally elected school boards and face fewer regulations. They first opened here in 2014, years after the schools reached most other states.
The new report found Washington was the only state whose law, from 2016, includes comprehensive monitoring of charter schools, either by the state or authorizing district, and data collection. Overall, the Evergreen State placed as third on the list behind Indiana and Colorado.
About 3,000 students attend nine charter schools across the state, with five more campuses set to open this fall, according to the Washington State Charter Schools Association.
But in its 2016 law, the Washington Legislature set a five-year trial period for the state to authorize a maximum of 40 charter schools. If lawmakers don’t extend that authorization window, no new schools would be able to open beyond 2021.
“We are optimistic that a positive recommendation from the State Board (of Education) and (charter school) commission will be coming to the Legislature, probably some time next fall,” said Patrick D’Amelio, executive director of the state association.
The national group still found room for improvement in Washington: It recommended the state lift its cap of 40 charters that can operate here, strengthen accountability for virtual schools and provide equitable funding for charters. Unlike traditional school districts, Washington’s charter schools cannot tap local property taxes to pad their state revenues.
That leaves individual charter schools with between $1,500 to $3,500 less per student, depending on their neighboring district.
Earlier this month, D’Amelio said that his group would lobby lawmakers during this year’s short legislative session to increase state funding for charter schools. A similar proposal died during last year’s session.
D’Amelio said, “Our focus remains on equitable funding for students who are already sitting in charter seats.”