Support charter schools for Washington families

October 9, 2012 

Usually coming late to the dinner table means cold leftovers and the good stuff already is gone.

Not the case with charter schools.

Being one of the last states in the union to consider a charter school provision means that Initiative 1240 is "the best charter school law in the country," according to Washington Policy Center.

We suspect that people opposed to charter schools in Washington are too quick to discount the value of all that experience.

The Washington Education Association is against allowing charter schools into our state. We're afraid that many members of that union feel the same way -- without really looking beyond the union's rhetoric.

But an open-minded examination of both sides of the proposal leads to only one conclusion -- that this modest approach to charter schools is worth pursuing.

Charter schools are successful, to various degrees, in 41 states and have been a part of the public school system in our country for 20 years.

Washington's initiative would allow for 40 charter schools during the next five years -- a minuscule number compared with the 2,345 public schools operating statewide.

It's important to remember that under I-1240, charter schools are public schools. They are free. They are open to all students. The students are required to pass all state-mandated tests, just like their counterparts in traditional schools.

They are a little different from traditional public schools in that they have more leeway. For example, they can have longer hours or night classes. They can specialize programs to appeal to a target group that maybe is being left behind.

But if the initiative passes, a charter school could not be operated by a for-profit entity or a religious group.

It's likely that some of the state's more progressive school districts would be anxious to not only approve charter schools, but also to apply to operate one.

A big problem with our education system in Washington is unfunded mandates -- many of which really don't help educate students. A charter school would be free from all of those. It would give teachers (and families) more options.

Charter schools do not skim the cream -- in either students or funds -- from public schools, although that seems to be a popular misconception.

Charter school teachers are required to hold a state-approved teaching certificate. But they are not required to be members of a teachers union. (Maybe that's why WEA is so opposed to the idea.)

If a charter school isn't successful, it loses its charter. After five years, the whole system will be re-evaluated. It's an opportunity we should pursue.

This is the third time charter schools have come before Washington voters, and the best plan yet because it takes advantage of lessons learned in other states. It's time to say yes.

The Tri-City Herald Editorial Board recommends supporting Initiative 1240.

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