Public charter schools proposal introduced by Spokane legislators; others likely to follow. Legislature must act to preserve important alternative for parents and students

We mentioned yesterday that one of the few must-dos on the 2016 legislative agenda is preserving public charter schools.  A pair of Spokane lawmakers, Democratic Sen. Andy Billig and Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner, have introduced an initial proposal

“This bill creates a framework for school districts to create a charter school and it will be very much up to the district and the charter school to fill in the details of that framework,” Billig said Monday. He added that the nine operating charter schools in the state would have an expedited process to apply to their school districts.

The bill, SB 6163, signals the beginning of an important legislative public charter school debate. The Association of Washington Business has an excellent discussion of how we got to this place in its latest magazine. A Washington Research Council blog post on the magazine cites State Rep. Eric Pettigrew’s comment:

“Every kid has a light switch and it may not exist in the traditional way we provide education. This is why families who can afford it sometimes go to the private system or homeschool,” Pettigrew explained. “Public charter schools fit a need that is there to serve kids that can’t necessarily afford those same educational routes.

The Associated Press report on the proposed legislation suggests the challenges backers will encounter. 

Democratic Rep. Gerry Pollet of Seattle, who is opposed to charter schools, noted school districts already open alternative high schools, and said lawmakers shouldn’t prioritize saving the charter system.

As Pettigrew and other supporters of public charter schools say in the AWB article, this is not an either-or issue. Public charter schools provide an important alternative for students, one that complements rather than competes with the traditional public schools.

Other legislative proposals are likely to emerge. What is clear is that preserving public charter schools is one of the most important issues facing lawmakers in the session that begins next week.