Fast Focus: Lack of oversight Lack of oversight Not the answer

October 14, 2012 

-- ERIC NORDLOF, Kennewick

A couple of misunderstandings

I do not support charter schools, for a variety of reasons. Most important, the charter-school concept siphons my tax dollars away from the public schools where I live (Kennewick), and takes away my democratic right to have input into the process whereby those tax dollars are spent. In Washington state, we have a long tradition of local control of our schools. That's why we have a somewhat inefficient patchwork of 289 (plus or minus a few) school districts in the state. I don't want to give that up. If I don't like the way that my local school board is running our schools, I can vote for someone else at the next election. That won't happen with charter schools, as they are proposed now. The governing authority of those schools will be appointed by politicians on a statewide basis, and I seriously doubt that any of my representatives from the 8th District will even have a say in those appointments.

I have taken the time to read the charter schools initiative. It's 40 pages long, by the way, and contains a lot of stuff that isn't reflected in the few paragraphs of the ballot description. I'm retired, and a good 50 percent of all the property taxes that I pay go to support the Kennewick School District. I am pleased to pay those taxes, because I have a firm belief in quality public education. It's an earmark of a civilized society. I worked in education most of my career, and I am a certified teacher as well. In general, our public schools do a pretty good job, despite the bad press they constantly receive. Yes, there is a little too much bureaucracy at the top end, and the regulatory scheme can be over-complicated. However, are we going to fix those relatively minor issues with a new 40-page law?

The whole proposal reminds me of our recent liquor-privatization debacle. I'm voting NO on 1240.

I spoke with a couple of retired teachers about Initiative 1240, the charter school initiative. Two primary complaints/observations were made by these former teachers. First, charter schools did not have to use certified teachers, and, second, charter schools could "cherry pick" the better students and expel under-performing students. I listened attentively, not knowing the answer to these two points. So I came home and did a little research (I looked up the text of the initiative). The initiative in Section n(ii) says:

"Require that teachers in public charter schools be held to the same certification requirements as teachers in other public schools;"

Section n(iv) reads:

"Require that public charter schools be free and open to all students just like traditional public schools are."

Clearly, the teachers are wrong on these two key points, at least in that it relates to the initiative. Also, charter schools will be held to the same standards as public schools. Personally, I am in favor of competition over monopolies. Competition tends to bring out the best ideas, while monopolies tend to protect self interests. This is not to say that public schools have done a bad job; all of my kids went through public schools, unlike many of our politicians' children, including President Obama. Oh, by the way, they all turned out to be fine citizens.

-- TOM SEIM, Richland

Charters succeed

Most other states already have public charter schools, and all across the country, they are helping thousands of students, every day, to succeed in school and graduate prepared for college and a career. It's time Washington students are allowed the same public school options for success that are already available for students in 41 other states. That's why I'm urging my friends and fellow parents to support Initiative 1240 this November.

A yes vote on I-1240 will allow the creation of up to 40 public charter schools in Washington over the next five years. Charter schools are public schools that are independently managed by approved nonprofits, and overseen by a local school board or state commission, subject to strict accountability and performance requirements.

I-1240 brings the best of what works in other states to Washington. The rigorous authorization process required by I-1240 will ensure the best quality public charter schools for our state, with strict accountability and oversight.

Every state surrounding Washington has public charter schools. It's time for Washington to catch up and give parents another option when it comes to their child's education.

I urge you to learn more about public charter schools and I-1240 by visiting www.YESon1240.com.

-- SERGIO JARA ARROYOS, Pasco

Charters not the solution

This November, Washington voters will be asked yet again to approve the establishment of charter schools in our state. We should think long and hard before doing so. Charter schools are hardly a new idea. They've been around for more than 20 years, and they haven't transformed K-12 education yet. The main reason is that there is nothing magic about charters. What counts, as with all schools, is what goes on inside them. And there, the record is spotty. According to the most comprehensive assessment of charter school performance (the Stanford University CREDO study), less than 20 percent actually do better than a comparable traditional public school. And even if the success rate in Washington were to double that, it's still a crapshoot with public money and a diversion from what we should really be doing to improve public education.

For example, proponents say that one advantage of charters is that they would be freed from unnecessary government regulations. Well, why not free all schools from them? Another thing that should concern Washington voters is how these schools would be governed. The initiative establishes a new political agency, the Washington Charter School Commission (comprised of three members appointed by the governor, three by the president of the senate, and three by the speaker of the house), that would be charged with approving and overseeing the operation of charter schools, including the local tax dollars that would go to help support them. This seems to be part of a continuing trend to shift more and more control over the operation of our schools to Olympia.

So unless you like the idea of unelected officials in Olympia and the education reform theorists at the Gates Foundation deciding how to spend your local property tax dollars and what your local schools should look like, then vote no on Initiative 1240.

-- WILLIAM PENNELL, Pasco

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