Two charter schools — one in Kent and another in Tacoma — will shut down at the end of this academic year, bringing the total number of closures to four since the publicly funded but privately run schools first opened in Washington state five years ago.
The board of directors for Green Dot Public Schools voted Thursday to shut down the two schools, which they oversee: Excel Public Charter School in Kent and Destiny Middle School in Tacoma. The Washington State Charter Association, in a news release, attributed the closures to dwindling enrollment.
The news comes five months after Soar Academy in Tacoma announced that it would close at the end of this school year. The school cited financial constraints.
“Both of these schools (in Kent and Tacoma) experienced significant struggles tied closely to low student enrollment and related operational challenges,” the charter-schools group said in its release.
The Kent and Tacoma schools received a charter, or contract, from the state to enroll up to 600 students. But enrollment data from Green Dot show the Kent campus reached a peak enrollment of 188 as of October 2018. In Tacoma, Destiny reached a peak enrollment of 281 during the 2017-18 school year but tumbled to 162 students as of October.
Across Washington, a dozen charter schools enroll about 3,300 students — a fraction of the 1.1 million students enrolled in public schools statewide.
Green Dot will continue to operate its Seattle campus, the Rainier Valley Leadership Academy, which enrolls students in middle and high school.
Joe Hailey, chair of the Green Dot board of directors in Washington, said students at the Kent school would be allowed to enroll at the Rainier Valley academy.
“At Destiny and Excel, we are committed to ensuring our students find an educational setting that’s the right fit for them,” Hailey said in a statement. “Our counseling team is working one-on-one with each family directly to help find the right placement.”
Details of the Kent and Tacoma schools’ financial situation were not immediately available.
But in his statement, Hailey in part blamed a last-minute decision during this year’s legislative session to block charter schools from accessing state funds that boost the local tax collections of traditional school districts.
Charters have a fraught history in Washington state. In 2012, voters here narrowly approved a ballot measure to authorize charter schools. That measure would have allowed charter schools to tap the local property-tax levies of neighboring school districts, but the state Supreme Court later struck down the entire funding mechanism for charter schools.
Regardless, the legal setbacks and political fight for survival hampered Green Dot’s ability to attract new new families, spokesman Sean Thibault said in an email.
“Since opening the doors of both Destiny and Excel in August 2015, the charter school sector has faced obstruction — not the least significant was being declared unconstitutional by the Washington State Supreme Court within days, calling the future of charter schools into question altogether and making it significantly more difficult for families to take the leap of faith and enroll,” Thibault said.
Patrick D’Amelio, CEO of the state charter schools group, acknowledged that critics of the charter model — which some argue drains money from traditional schools — may consider the closures a sign of the sector’s waning stability.
To counter that narrative, he noted that a new charter school is set to open this fall in Skyway, just south of Seattle, and last week, a state commission overseeing charter schools authorized four more campuses to open in September 2020.
“There will be some folks that will try to use (the closures) to make an evaluation of the sector,” D’Amelio said in a phone interview Friday. “We want to be really clear: This is unique to the circumstances at these schools. We do not think it is indicative of the overall health of the sector.”
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.