We’ve consistently supported Washington’s charter public schools. So today’s story by Seattle Times reporter Claudia Rowe was welcome affirmation of their success in serving students and families in our state.
Washington voters were among the last in the country to approve charter schools, which are free, publicly funded and, in this state, run by independent nonprofits. The oldest have been open less than three years, so their academic track record remains a question mark. And all operate under a cloud of uncertainty, as challenges to their legality continue to work through the Washington courts.
Yet there are now about 2,400 students from the Seattle, Kent, Tacoma, Highline and Spokane school districts enrolled in charters, which have more freedom than traditional public schools to hire and teach as they like. In return for that flexibility, each must submit to annual audits of their fiscal stability and academic performance.
Some are already at capacity, others see new students sign up each month. And two more charters are set to open this fall — one in Tukwila, the other in Walla Walla.
Their primary focus from the beginning has been students at risk of falling behind in traditional public schools. And so far, that promise has been kept. Seventy-five percent of charter students in Western Washington are kids of color, 63 percent come from low-income families and 16 percent are learning-disabled.
The story offers a glimpse into why some families are choosing charters.
“I’m ready for a change,” said Zakiyyah Ali, who saw two older children through Seattle’s education system but worried her youngest would be overwhelmed by the large South End middle school she’d been assigned to.
[Arneidra] Lloyd, who will run Green Dot’s yet-to-open high school this fall, is a lifelong public-education supporter with deep ties to Seattle and recent experience as the principal of an elementary school in Renton. Despite these bona fides, she’d been stymied by the maze of requirements to get her own daughter screened for advanced learning in Seattle. By the time Lloyd finally navigated to the correct page on the school district’s website, the test date had passed.
Charter public schools need not be seen as a threat to the public school system, but rather a complement, an alternative for students and families seeking a learning environment in which they can thrive. Yet, as the Seattle Times editorial board wrote recently the Seattle School Board throws up roadblocks. And, as noted above, opponents continue to press their lawsuits to the state Supreme Court.
Their energy would be better focused on improving education for all students. As the record shows, demand for these alternatives is growing. It makes no sense to stand in their way.