NCSRC regularly features interviews with CSP grantees in this newsletter to help grantees learn from each other’s work. This month, we hear from Jeannette Vaughn, CSP Project Director and School Implementation Coach at the Washington State Charter Schools Association (WA Charters), which has held a CSP SE grant since 2019. NCSRC spoke with Vaughn about WA Charters’ work serving a diverse range of students and regions throughout the state.
NCSRC: The charter sector in Washington state is unique. What is WA Charters’ role, and how does your CSP grant help you?
JEANNETTE VAUGHN: Washington’s charter school legislation was passed by voters in 2012, after decades of advocacy. Just as our first round of schools launched in Fall 2015, the state’s charter law was struck down as unconstitutional in a surprise state Supreme Court ruling. Powerful parent-, school-, and student-centered advocacy led to the law being reinstated in 2016. Given this recent and rocky start, we remain a small sector of about 20 schools. WA Charters, the core charter school support and advocacy organization in the state, is a nonprofit with under twenty employees.
Our law allowed for authorizing up to forty schools over five years, though the legislative complications, funding and facilities constraints, and other factors meant the clock ran out before we could get close to that number. State policy still prevents new school authorization, so WA Charters no longer incubates schools. Instead, we focus on advocacy while providing key support services for operators and boards.
To date, ten of Washington’s charters have been awarded CSP startup grants, and one has received CSP funds to expand from a K-8 to a K-12 school. We anticipate several additional expansion grants for other operators in the next year.
NCSRC: Are there benefits to the relatively small sector?
VAUGHN: One silver lining is that we are intimately involved with every charter school in our state. Our team works very closely with school personnel in compliance, professional development, fundraising, governance, communications, racial equity supports, and more. Schools trust WA Charters to provide support when challenges or crises emerge, and we can respond very quickly.
Another positive feature is our community rootedness. The majority of our schools are stand-alone, locally founded, and serve specific populations. For example, Lumen High School in Spokane serves teen parents and their children, offering free onsite childcare and wraparound support services. The local districts ended their teen parent programs in Spokane, so this fulfills a great need. Pullman, a rural area in southeast Washington, had a Montessori preschool but no such program for older children. A local educator saw the need and started the first charter Montessori program in Washington. We have similar examples everywhere.
NCSRC: What are your long-term goals given the restrictions you’re up against?
VAUGHN: Our two biggest policy priorities are (1) advocating for more equitable funding for charter public schools and (2) advocating for more time to open schools and reach more communities who want and need options that are flexible and inclusive.
Our sector attracts and serves disproportionately high percentages of Black, Indigenous, and students of color and students from low-income households. WA Charters is committed to the journey of becoming an anti-racist organization: to uphold equity in all that we do, and to drive appropriate and adequate resources to support our entire sector in leveling up its equity work in terms of practices and outcomes. We recently adopted a co-presidency leadership model with three female co-presidents, two of whom identify as people of color.
CSP grants have been critical to our schools. Take the example of Lumen High School, which now has P.E. electives with a focus on parent-and-child activities, including yoga and outdoor activities. The CSP grant doesn’t only provide tables and chairs, it funds educational opportunities that are hard to offer in the first few years of a school launch. This is just one example of how the CSP grant has been instrumental.