Coalition Files Initiative to Allow Public Charter Schools in Washington State

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A bi-partisan coalition of education advocates, teachers, parents, legislators and community leaders filed an initiative measure today that will authorize a limited number of public charter schools in Washington state and evaluate their success in improving academic achievement and outcomes for Washington public school students.

Charter schools are independently-managed public schools that are operated by non-profit organizations. They do not charge tuition, are open to all students and receive funding based on student enrollment just like traditional public schools. Public charter schools are subject to the same academic standards as traditional public schools, but they are free from many other regulations so they have more flexibility to set curriculum and budgets, hire and fire teachers and staff, and offer more customized learning experiences for students. Most states have public charter schools, but they are not yet authorized under Washington’s current state law.

“This initiative will finally bring Washington into the 21st century in terms of educational opportunities for public school students,” said State Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle. “Forty-one other states have public charter schools and many are ranked higher in student performance than Washington schools. States with the strongest charter school laws are getting the best results. It makes no sense for Washington to continue to ban charter schools as an option to improve educational outcomes for students in our state.”

Under the initiative, a maximum of 40 public charter schools could be authorized over a five-year period. These schools would be subject to strict oversight and public accountability, and their performance in improving student outcomes would be evaluated to determine whether additional charter schools should be allowed.
Coalition Files Initiative

“Allowing public charter schools in Washington will create more options for parents to find the best learning environments for our children,” said Flor Alarcon, a parent and education advocate who supports the measure. “Parents and students in Washington public schools should have the same educational opportunities that are available to parents and students in other states.”

“Teachers in public charter schools will be held to the same certification requirements as other public school teachers,” said Todd Hausman, veteran 4th grade teacher, union leader and education advocate from Bellingham, who also supports the measure. “Charter schools are designed to solve problems particularly for students who aren’t succeeding in traditional public schools.”

“This measure is a very reasonable and carefully thought-out approach to bringing innovative solutions to our public schools and improving the quality of education we provide to all students in Washington,” said State Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island. “Washington is one of the few states that doesn’t allow public charter schools as an educational option for parents and students. We believe that once the voters have a chance to study this measure, a majority will support this effort to provide additional options for improving educational outcomes for all students, particularly students who are struggling and at risk of dropping out of school.”

In addition to broad bi-partisan support from teachers, parents and community leaders, the measure is supported by both Democrat and Republican legislators including State Sen. Rodney Tom (D), Litzow (R) , and Pettigrew (D), as well as the League of Education Voters, the Washington Chapter of Stand For Children, and Democrats for Education Reform.

Now that the initiative has been filed, it will go through the state process to establish an official ballot title before petitions are printed. Supporters say they expect signature gathering to begin in about a month and they are confident the initiative will qualify for submission to the voters on the November 2012 state ballot.
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