Washington voters’ embrace of charter schools at the ballot box adds another important tool to better serve all students, particularly those most at-risk because of poverty.
The key is doing charter schools right, ensuring Washington is among the states with successful, groundbreaking charter schools. That will require leadership from Gov.-elect Jay Inslee, who opposed Initiative 1240. He will be making appointments to the new state charter-school commission, along with Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, D-Seattle, and Lt. Gov. Brad Owen.
Though the nine-member commission is not required to be established until March, they must not delay in heeding voters’ wishes to move this important education reform forward in an authentic way. Their appointments will be telling — and closely watched.
The makeup of the charter commission is important. The law offers some guidance, including explicitly saying that members must support the concept of charters. That is an inoculation against those who might try to undermine the effort by appointing detractors.
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Some lawmakers no doubt are grousing about I-1240, not to mention the Washington Education Association, which campaigned vigorously against it.
Yet no one should forget that charter schools were approved by voter initiative after efforts in the Legislature were thwarted. Senate Education Committee chairwoman Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, and her counterpart in the House, Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, refused to allow even consideration of charter-school bills.
Their obstruction invited the initiative.
Lawmakers intent on blocking needed education reforms dampen hopes for improving education, especially as the state Legislature seeks to comply with the state Supreme Court’s McCleary v. State ruling to fully fund education.
The idea of charter schools opening by next fall might be overly optimistic, given the short timeline for creating the commission. That’s fine. The initiative allows up to 40 charter school to be established over five years, a maximum of eight each year. We’re building an incubator for educational innovation and achievement. Quality over quantity is the rule of thumb.
In addition to the commission, the state Board of Education can authorize existing public schools seeking to convert to charters. The board is already starting its work.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, who opposed the initiative, is unhappy the law does not give him any authority over charters and is exploring a possible lawsuit. He should stand down. The commission will be under the governor’s office and will be held publicly accountable.
Voters have spoken on charters. They now fully expect the governor, the Legislature and other education leaders to get on board. These new schools are another tool building a seamless, innovative education system to serve our students, from age 3 to 23.