Students at Charter Public Schools Get a Warm Welcome Back in Buildings

State’s Free, Public Options Continue to Adapt and Respond to Pandemic Challenges 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 1, 2021
Contact: Maggie Meyers at or 206-702-5790

SEATTLE, WA — Back-to-school season is in full swing for the state’s sixteen charter public schools. Since August 18, Washington’s charter public schools have been warmly welcoming students back into buildings for in-person learning. As public schools, charter public schools follow state health and safety guidelines, including mask mandates for students and teachers and vaccine mandates for school staff. Across the charter public school sector, educators are delivering world-class educational experiences that attend to diverse academic, social, emotional, and mental wellness needs of students.

Washington’s growing charter public school sector currently serves more than 4,700 students statewide. The oldest charter public schools are entering their seventh year, while the following five schools are opening doors to students for the very first time:

“Washington’s charter public schools continue to utilize their flexibility to be responsive to complex challenges while centering students,” said WA Charters President Patrick D’Amelio. “While we anticipate that schools, families, and educators will continue to grapple with difficult decisions during the ongoing pandemic, we know that Washington’s charter public schools are prepared and well-equipped to respond nimbly and effectively. We wish all of our returning students and educators a safe, healthy year of learning that is strengthened by in-person connections and strong communication for pivoting when necessary.”

How Charter Public Schools Operate

Charter schools are free, public school, nonprofit options that are authorized and overseen by the Washington State Charter School Commission, OSPI, and the State Board of Education. They are staffed by certified teachers, and there are no entrance requirements for students. When more students enroll than there are spots available, schools hold a random public lottery.

Having charter public school options means that Washington families can have more than one free, public option, and they can decide which model is the best fit for their children. Charter public schools are given more flexibility than traditional schools to take different and creative approaches, and in exchange, they are held to higher standards of accountability to demonstrate that those approaches are delivering strong results for students.

Every charter public school is governed by a nonprofit board that is required to follow state and federal guidelines and adhere to open public meeting requirements. Charter public school board are comprised of community experts, which means that decisions at the school-level are made by a group of individuals who understand and are deeply invested in the needs, strengths, and desires of families and the community.

Response to COVID-19

Since the pandemic began in the spring of 2020, Washington’s charter public schools have demonstrated how flexibility and community-driven decision-making can positively impact students and families. Charters in Washington offer innovative, equity- and trauma-informed programs and address the immediate needs of their communities’ health and safety. While each charter model in our state is different, all the state’s charter public schools share a focus on social emotional learning and reducing racial inequities in education. See video featuring students, educators and parents at Impact Public Schools and Rainier Valley Leadership Academy.

Schools adapted unique educational models and strong remote learning spaces during COVID-19 closures, which helped increase demand for these student-centered schools, as evidenced by this University of Washington study, which showed that while enrollment dipped 3 percent in traditional public schools between March and September of 2020, it increased 35 percent in Washington’s charters, and a whopping 50 percent increase in English language learner enrollment in charter public schools. Traditional schools saw a 5 percent decline in enrollment of students receiving special education services, while charters saw an increase of 15 percent enrollment for students receiving special education. These enrollment trends illustrate that families are demanding options that they feel are responsive to their individual needs. Another study by the Center for Reinventing Public Education identified several critical practices used by Washington charter public schools that enabled them to effectively serve students with disabilities during the pandemic.

Looking Ahead: Growth and Advocacy

The current charter law, passed in 2015, allows for the authorization of 40 charter public schools over five years. That five-year window closed in 2021 without coming close to the 40 school mark. Parents and other advocates across the state are urging legislators to extend the five-year window so that more students and families can benefit from having high-quality, free, public school options.

Advocates also continue to push for equitable state funding for students attending charter public schools. Currently, Washington charter schools are not entitled to local property tax levies, creating a funding gap of between $1,500 to $3,000 per student.

Charter school policy is a racial equity issue. Washington’ charter public schools attract and serve a higher percentage of systemically marginalized students and teachers as compared to traditional public schools, and advocacy and demand for charter public schools comes predominantly from Global Majority communities (a.k.a. communities of color).

While advocates push hard on policy changes that would positively impact public school students and families, Washington’s charter public school sector will continue to grow with the expansion of grade levels and the opening of Rooted School in Vancouver, WA, and Impact | Renton, both authorized to open in the 2022-23 school year.

Get the Facts: School-by-School

Here is the full listing of the charter public schools currently operating across the state in the 2021-22 school year, including grade level offerings and start dates:

SchoolLocationYear openedGrade levels servedFirst day of school
Catalyst Public SchoolsBremerton2020Serving grades K-3 and 5-7 in 2021-2022; growing to serve grades K-8August 30
Impact Public Schools | Commencement Bay ElementaryTacoma2021Serving Transitional Kindergarten (TK), K, and grade 1 in 2021-2022; growing to serve TK-5August 25
Impact Public Schools |
Puget Sound Elementary
Tukwila2018Serving grades TK-4 in 2021-2022; growing to serve grades TK-5August 25
Impact Public Schools | Salish
Sea Elementary
Seattle2020Serving grades TK-2 in 2021-2022; growing to serve grades TK-5August 25
Lumen High SchoolSpokane2020Serving grades 9-12September 7
Pinnacles PrepWenatchee2021Serving grades 6-7 in 2021-2022; growing to serve grades 6-12August 24
PRIDE Prep Middle School and Innovation High School
Spokane2015Serving grades 6-12September 1
Pullman Community MontessoriPullman2021Serving grades K-5 in 2021-2022; growing to serve K-9August 25
Rainier PrepHighline2015Serving grades 5-8August 31
Rainier Valley
Leadership Academy
Seattle2017Serving grades 6-12August 23
Spokane International AcademySpokane2015Serving grades K-9 in 2021-2022; growing to serve K-12September 7
Summit AtlasWest Seattle2017Serving grades 6-12August 18
Summit OlympusTacoma2015Serving grades 9-12August 18
Summit SierraSeattle2015Serving grades 9-12August 18
Whatcom Intergenerational High SchoolBellingham2021Serving grades 9-10 in 2021-2022; growing to serve grades 9-12.September 7
Why Not You AcademyDes Moines2021Serving grade 9 in 2021-2022; growing to serve grades 9-12September 1