A routine audit that revealed three Puget Sound-area charter schools previously employed unlicensed teachers should alleviate critics’ fears about oversight of the public charter school system.
The three schools operated by California-based Summit Public Schools network — Summit Atlas and Summit Sierra in Seattle, and Summit Olympus in Tacoma — will face consequences for allowing staff to teach students before receiving Washington teachers’ licenses during the 2019-2020 school year. The teachers are now licensed, officials say.
Annual audits are one element of a robust public charter school accountability system that also includes oversight by the state Charter School Commission, the charter’s appointed school board and the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
After auditors found that the schools failed to obtain temporary licenses for teachers applying for Washington certification, the state Charter Commission shortened the renewal of Summit Atlas’ charter from five to two years and attached several other conditions to the operating agreement. The Summit Public Schools network may need to pay back some of the combined $3.89 million in state funding received based on the presumption that teachers were properly credentialed.
This is accountability in action. The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, which publishes an annual ranking of charter school law, consistently has given Washington high marks for oversight and accountability. The system works.
Well-run, high-performing charters are an important part of the state’s educational landscape. Washington’s 16 public charters are independently managed public schools operated by nonprofit organizations; two of those are authorized by Spokane School District.
Like all public schools, they are open to all students, tuition-free. Compared to statewide averages, they serve higher percentages of low-income students and students of color. They employ more teachers of color.
Charter school students with disabilities, those who qualify for free and reduced price lunch and those identifying as Black, Latino and multiracial outperformed their peers in traditional public schools on last fall’s statewide English, math and science assessments. Ninety-five percent of the 2020-21 graduates at the three Summit schools flagged in the recent audit were accepted to colleges and universities, according to the Washington State Charter Schools Association. That’s an impressive feat.
Charters have faced fierce opposition in Washington for a decade, but that may be fading. Even though state lawmakers again failed to extend the authorizing window for new charters, they did approve some supplemental enrichment funding for some charter schools during the 2022-23 school year. Advocates call the allocation “a partial but important legislative victory” that sets the stage for future policy discussions.
As more people come to understand the benefits and safeguards in Washington’s public charter system, support for these public alternatives should only grow.
Clarification: This editorial, originally posted on March 15, 2022, was updated on March 16, 2022, to reflect that some supplemental enrichment funding was approved for some charters schools during the 2022-23 school year.