Public charter schools attract growing enrollment nationally; in Washington, six charter schools get new 5-year contracts

The Associated Press reports on continued growth in public charter schools across the country.

Charter schools arrived in the 1990s and began attracting parents searching for an alternative to big-city districts that had strained for years to raise performance among minority and low-income students and those who are learning English.

More than two decades later, charter enrollment continues to climb. Nationwide, more than 2.6 million students attended charter schools in 2014, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

The story reports that in several large urban districts the growth of public charter school has traditional public school leaders worried about their business plans. The head of the national charter school association has a good answer to that.

Charter school advocates say it’s only fair for local and state property tax dollars to follow children to the new schools, and that parents aren’t to blame for a district’s failing finances.

“To the extent the district is not serving the needs of their students, this has been a trend line for some time,” said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Moreover, several examples of challenges faced by struggling urban districts make the case for more flexible alternatives. For example, 

The issue surfaced recently when nearly all of Detroit’s public schools were closed and more than 45,000 students missed classes for two days after about half of teachers called out sick to protest the possibility that some wouldn’t get paid over the summer if the district ran out of cash.

The number of students enrolled in Detroit public schools has dropped dramatically since the 1990s, fueled by the flight of a quarter million city residents, abysmal graduation rates, financial mismanagement and corruption.

In our state, there’s good news for public charter school students, parents and faculty

Six of Washington’s charter schools will get another lease on life under the state’s new charter law, after action by the Washington State Charter School Commission.

The commission, meeting in Tacoma last week, voted to approve five-year contracts with existing charter schools in Tacoma, Seattle and Kent…

Two other charters operate under the auspices of the Spokane School District. A former Seattle charter, First Place Scholars, has reverted to the private-school status it held before it converted to a charter school.

The commission also authorized three schools — two in Seattle and one in Walla Walla — that plan to open in fall 2017.

The story provides a good recap of the struggles the schools had following the Washington state Supreme Court’s decision that the voter-approved public charter school law was unconstitutional. The Legislature passed a new law that should meet the court’s objection, though charter school opponents vow to go back to court with another challenge. And the Washington State Charter Schools Association provided needed funding and advocacy to support the existing schools through the transition.
As we wrote earlier, the new law went into effect in early April, without the governor’s decision. We quoted, among other editorials, this from the Columbian:
With support from voters and lawmakers and tacit approval from the governor, the time has come to develop a thriving charter school system rather than drag the issue back into the courts.
It’s good to see that the process is working as intended under the leadership of the Washington State Charter School Commission.