YES! Charter schools are a type of public school. Like all public schools, they are:
- Open to all students
- Publicly funded
- Staffed by certified teachers
- Held accountable to state and national standards
In exchange for higher levels of accountability, charter schools have more freedom than traditional public schools to customize curriculum, take creative approaches, and offer greater personal attention, giving students from all backgrounds the chance to go to a school that works for them.
Anyone! Charter schools do not have special eligibility or entrance requirements, and they are built on the belief that every student should have the chance to go to a great school that puts their needs first, regardless of zip code, income or ability level.
If more students want to attend a specific charter school than there are spaces available, enrollment is determined by a random lottery.
Here’s a look at who’s attending Washington’s charter public schools:
- Charter public schools attract and serve higher than average percentages of students that are impacted by systemic inequities
- Overall, charter public schools serve higher percentages of low-income students, students of color, and special education students than statewide (and, in most cases, district) averages.
Charter public schools are funded based on student enrollment, just like traditional public schools. If a student transfers from another public school to a charter public school, the costs and funding associated with educating that student follows that student to the charter school.
Like any public school, charter public schools depend on a mix of federal and state funding. However, unlike local district schools, charter schools do not receive support from local property tax levies.
Washington’s charter schools are designed to meet the needs of ALL students, regardless of background or ability. 15% of students attending Washington’s charter public schools are eligible for special education services, on par with the statewide average for other public schools.
A 2018 study by the University of Washington’s Center for Reinventing Public Education showed that 8 out of 10 charter public schools enrolled students with disabilities at a rate at or above the local district rate. Additionally, the same study showed that Washington’s charter schools provide a more inclusive educational environment for students, meaning that students with disabilities in charter schools are educated with their peers without disabilities at a much higher rate than the state average.
Charter public school teachers are similar to teachers at other public schools in many ways:
- Like all public school teachers, charter public school teachers must be certified
- Charter public school teachers have the right to organize and collectively bargain for pay, benefits, and working conditions
- Teachers at charter public schools earn salaries competitive with traditional public schools and receive state employee benefits
Charter public schools in Washington have more teachers who reflect the demographics of the students they serve: 34 percent of Washington’s charter teachers identify as people of color, as compared to just 12 percent statewide.
No. By law, all Washington charter public schools are operated by non-profit, non-religious organizations.
Currently, there are 18 operating charter public schools in Washington state. View our school map here.
If you don’t see a charter school listed in your area, but you are interested in advocating for new options in your community, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We support the development of new, community-driven school models around the state.
Yes, charter public schools offer breakfast and lunch to students and provide free and reduced-price meals for families who qualify.
Bus transportation is provided in accordance with each school’s approved transportation plan.
Charter schools are relatively new to Washington, and all of the state’s authorized schools have been in operation for less than five years. Given that, data is still somewhat limited; however, early results indicate that Washington’s charter public schools are making a difference for students. The most recent Washington State Report Card (Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, September 2018) showed some promising proficiency and growth trends across Washington’s charter public school sector:
- Across the charter, the public school sector, fifth-graders from low-income households met or exceeded grade-level expectations on the SBAC math test at higher rates than peers in their local districts and statewide in the same subgroup.
- Across the charter public school sector, Hispanic/Latinx sixth graders met or exceeded grade-level expectations at higher rates than their Hispanic/Latinx peers in local districts and statewide on both the ELA and math SBAC tests.
- Across the charter public school sector, Black/African American eighth-graders met or exceeded grade-level expectations at higher rates than their Black/African American peers in local districts on the math SBAC test.
- Students at Washington’s charter public high schools outperformed their peers in local districts and across the state by more than 10 percent on the 11th grade statewide science test (WCAS).
In 2019, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Academic Outcomes (CREDO) released its first in-depth study of Washington’s charters. CREDO determined that academic results for students attending Washington’s charter schools were “promising, but not yet definitive”. The study showed:
- Several of Washington’s charter public schools demonstrate significant and positive impacts in both reading and math
- Washington’s highest performing charter public schools are among the highest performing charter schools in the nation.
- English Language Learners enrolled in charter schools experienced significantly higher learning growth than peers enrolled in TPS during the period studied
Check back for more in-depth studies as we have more years of academic data available to analyze.
Many checks and balances ensure that charter public schools provide quality education. Just like any other Washington public school, charter schools are overseen by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education. Public charter schools also have to comply with the same state and federal laws regarding health, safety, civil rights, and nondiscrimination as every other public school. Public charter schools must meet the same academic standards as any public school. Teachers have to meet the same certification requirements as other public school teachers, and students have to take the same standardized tests. Charter public schools must comply with the open public meetings act and public records act.
The boards that oversee charter public schools are subject to state and non-profit financial audits and have to answer to the community. Since families choose their charter schools, those schools are directly accountable to parents and must ensure they are meeting parents’ standards and expectations.
Charter schools can be started by any interested party, including parents, community members, and teachers. It is common to see charter schools led by experienced principals and educators who wanted to take the lessons they learned in the classroom and scale to an entire school community.
Charter schools must be led by nonprofit boards that receive approval by statewide or local authorizers. In Washington, there is a statewide authorizer, the Washington State Charter School Commission, which can authorize charter schools anywhere in the state. Spokane Public Schools is currently the state’s only district authorizer that can authorize within its district bounds, and it oversees the three charter public schools in Spokane.
The application process is rigorous and requires that applicants submit a robust application that must address 32 required elements, participate in a capacity interview, and hold a public forum to solicit input from the community. To meet our state’s high standards for charter school authorization, applicants must clearly demonstrate full educational, organizational, and financial plan that includes:
- A detailed educational model that is based on proven methods and responsive to the needs of the anticipated student population
- A description of the school’s financial plan and policies, including financial controls, audit requirements, and a plan for financial sustainability and securing a facility
- Evidence of need and family and community support for the proposed school, and a targeted plan for recruiting students in underserved communities
- A plan for serving students who are eligible for special education and additional support services
Once a charter public school’s application is approved, the school’s board of directors enters into a contractual relationship with the state or district level authorizer. The contract requires extensive oversight of organizational, financial and academic performance, and charter public schools must seek reauthorization every five years.
If you have identified a unique need in a community that a charter school would serve, we encourage you to email email@example.com to connect with WA Charters’ School Programs team to learn more about pathways to authorization.
Charter public schools are approved by and accountable to their authorizers. The word “authorizer” refers to the state entity or institution that has the legal right to issue charters to those who want to open charter public schools. An authorizer is also responsible for oversight of these schools.
The word “charter” is the same as a “contract.” A “charter” is granted to a new charter public school and outlines the school’s mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, performance expectations, and ways to measure student success. Washington’s charter school law requires strict oversight and accountability. Charter schools are subject to annual performance reviews as well as ongoing oversight by the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction to measure their success in improving student outcomes.
There are a number of ways that parents at Washington’s charter public schools can be involved and make a difference.
- Join a parent group at your school. These groups help parents navigate the public school system and develop skills to advocate for their students’ needs and for issues that are relevant to their family or community.
- Volunteer at your child’s school.
- Connect with your school’s Family and Community Engagement staff, who can provide you with additional opportunities to be involved at your school.
- Serve on a parent advisory committee.
WA Charters partners with and supports family and community engagement work across the sector. For more information about how to get connected at your school, to other parents, or to learn more about opportunities for civic engagement and personal leadership development, please contact our Regional Advocacy and Organizing Team:
Charter public schools must comply with most of the same accountability, oversight, and transparency laws applicable to traditional public schools. Charter teachers meet the same certification requirements as traditional public school teachers, including background checks. Students meet the same academic standards and participate in the same statewide assessment system as students in traditional public schools. Charter schools comply with local, state, and federal health, safety, parents’ rights, civil rights, and nondiscrimination laws applicable to school districts. Charter schools are subject to the open public meetings act and the public records act. They comply with the annual school performance report required of all public schools and are subject to performance improvement goals adopted by the State Board of Education applicable to all public schools. The nonprofit organizations that operate charter schools are subject to annual audits for legal and fiscal compliance by the state auditor (and must comply with generally accepted accounting principles).
Charter public schools are free from many rules and regulations that apply to traditional public schools, so they have more flexibility to set curriculum and budgets, select teachers and staff, and offer more customized learning experiences for students. This means that teachers and principals have more flexibility at the school level to meet the needs of their students and help them succeed. It also means that parents have more options within the public school system to find the best learning environment for their children.
In exchange for this flexibility, charter schools are held more accountable for showing improved student achievement. Charter public schools must meet the same state and federal academic standards as other public schools, but they are subject to additional rigorous academic, financial, and managerial requirements as specified in their charter contract —and to ongoing monitoring to evaluate their success in improving student outcomes.