A YES Vote for 1240 Is a YES Vote for Public Education

I’ve been a strong advocate for public education throughout my career, and I have consistently supported our public school teachers and advocated for increased funding for our public schools.  That’s why I support a YES vote on Initiative 1240, the Washington Public Charter Schools Initiative, slated for the November ballot.

Parents and students in 41 other states have the option of public charter schools as part of the public education system, and Initiative 1240 will finally bring the option of high quality public charter schools to families here in Washington, too.

I grew up in South Central Los Angeles in the late sixties, and I attended public high school. I went on to attend a public university on an athletic scholarship. I know public education saved my life, but unfortunately, that wasn’t the case for many of my classmates.

Our public schools here in Washington are serving many students well, but far too many of our children are falling through the cracks, struggling in traditional public schools and in danger of dropping out of school altogether.

A disproportionate number of these “at-risk” students are low-income, urban and minority children.

Earlier this year, Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn released a list of the persistently lowest-achieving public schools in our state.  Of the 57 schools on the list, five are located in the district I represent.

Public charter schools offer an opportunity to improve education for all Washington students by finding solutions to the problems that plague some of our struggling schools and by providing an alternative approach for our students who are most at risk.

Initiative 1240 will allow up to a maximum of 40 public charter schools to be authorized in Washington over a five-year period, with priority given to schools serving at-risk students.

Public charter schools are public schools – free, optional and open to all students, just like traditional public schools. They do not “select” students or discriminate in admissions.  They are funded based on student enrollment just like traditional public schools are.  Not one penny is diverted from our public school system or from our public school students.  The money follows the student – as it should.

Public charter schools are independently managed by qualifying nonprofit organizations, and are authorized and overseen by either a state charter school commission or by local school boards with strict accountability and performance requirements.

Public charter schools are subject to the same academic requirements as traditional public schools, and teachers in public charter schools are held to the same certification requirements as teachers in other public schools. But public charter schools have more flexibility in making decisions about curriculum, budgets, and staffing, and in providing more customized learning experiences to meet the individual needs of their students.

Opponents’ claims against Initiative 1240 are not based on supported facts – but rather on unfounded fears or a misuse of statistics to try to support their biased views.

In many states, public charter schools have had a positive impact on traditional public schools, and have offered new opportunities to develop innovative learning environments through collaboration and sharing of best practices.

Research from Stanford University shows that states that have the best charter school laws are getting the best results in improving academic outcomes for students – especially for those students who aren’t succeeding in traditional public schools and who are at risk of dropping out of school.

Initiative 1240 is based on these successes in other states and will bring the best of what works in public charter schools to Washington.

Our public schools deserve this option – and our students deserve every possible opportunity to succeed.

Please join me in voting YES on 1240.

Eric Pettigrew is a Democrat and member of the Washington State House of Representatives, representing the 37th District. He is a former board member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Rainier Vista and King Count, and is past president of the Rainier Valley Chamber of Commerce. He lives in Seattle.

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