Fast Focus: Opposed to charter schools

October 14, 2012 

-- Pam Sebelien, Richland

I-1240 does not increase funding for public schools, it decreases it. It does not lower class sizes, does not purchase updated curriculum or textbooks, does not provide improved technology to enhance student learning, does not restore electives, nor restore art or music classrooms. Finally, and perhaps equally important, is that our public schools, governed and administered by locally elected school boards, provide the educational foundation of our democracy. A weakened public school structure will eventually produce citizens less able to contribute significantly and productively in a democratic society. The lack of accountability and oversight inherent in the charter school design gives no guarantee of curriculum or instruction that promotes democratic principles.

I-1240 would authorize up to 40 privately operated, but taxpayer funded, charter schools that would be exempt from many of the laws governing existing public schools. There are numerous reasons why this is unhealthy and unwise for public school students in Washington: 1) it doesn't address our funding needs, 2) it lacks oversight and accountability, and 3) it provides no guarantee of actually improving student performance.

I-1240 doesn't pay for itself, but would cost existing school funds up to $100 million a year. Charter schools could use existing public school facilities without paying rent, repair, or maintenance costs. They also would have access to funds raised through local levies, even though they would not be accountable to local school boards, voters, or taxpayers. School boards would be responsible for enforcing charter contracts, but not the actual management or supervision of the school. At a time when the State Supreme Court has mandated the state to fully fund public education, charter schools would take money from existing school funds, consequently draining the very resources necessary to accomplish this.

The only long term study on the effectiveness of charter schools in the US is the CREDO study at Stanford University. Results: 46 percent of the charter schools included in the study were about as successful as K-12 public schools, 37 percent did worse than public schools, while only 17 percent did better.

Washington State does not need charter schools; it already offers a wide variety of educational options for students and parents. Many school districts in Washington have developed highly successful, innovative public schools, which are publicly funded and administered. Our own Delta High School is an example of such. Tri-City school districts offer alternative high school programs and support Tri-Tech Vocational Skills Center. Magnet schools are common in larger, urban districts and offer K-12 students the opportunity to study in a school with a particular curricular focus, such as mathematics, music, arts or science.

Washington voters have defeated charter school initiatives three times. It is difficult to see any reason to go in that direction now.

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