Washington’s public charter schools have faced fierce resistance, particularly from the state teacher’s union, since voters approved them by initiative a decade ago.
This year, lawmakers must finally reject uninformed and politically motivated opposition to these outcomes-focused learning communities and pass two bills that will remove unfair barriers to their success.
Washington’s charters offer free, public alternatives to students who don’t live in wealthy school districts and can’t afford expensive private education. Most enroll higher percentages of students of color, students living in poverty and those with disabilities than traditional schools in their area.
But the state approved only 24 of the 40 charter schools allowed under Washington law before the authorization window closed last April, according to the Washington State Charter Schools Association. New schools are unable to proceed unless that deadline is extended, including at least two schools in development in the Puget Sound area — a STEM-focused education program for global learners in Bellevue and a high school honoring and embracing Indigenous knowledge systems in Seattle.
House Bill 1962 would extend the authorization deadline to 2027, giving these and other groups a chance to finalize their proposals. It is sponsored by Rep. Debra Entenman, D-Kent, a former charter-school skeptic who says she’s come to appreciate the role of charter schools in engaging families and supporting students of color.
“I look at many of our charter schools and I see a diversity of students in those buildings, and I also see success,” Entenman said.
Entenman’s bill was referred to the House Education Committee on Jan. 13. Committee Chairwoman Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, should schedule a public hearing to give community members a chance to plead their case to lawmakers.
“We don’t have a billionaire donating money for us,” said Sarah Sense-Wilson, Oglala, Lakota. She is chairwoman and co-founder of the Urban Native Education Alliance and has been working on the Seattle proposal. “Charter schools are the only other option.”
The second bill, HB 1591, would fix the systematic underfunding of charters by giving them access to up to $1,550 per student in levy equalization funding for extracurricular activities, academic enrichments and critical support staff.
By law, charters can’t access the local levy funds traditional school districts use to supplement basic education revenues. That shortchanges charters by about $1,550-$3,000 per student, depending on the district, according to Charter Schools Association. Putting charter students at such an unfair disadvantage betrays the very purpose of the public charter school law.
This is not the first time lawmakers will consider these two issues, which have been hung up in committee in previous sessions. This time, lawmakers must stand up to political pressure and do what’s right for our kids who attend these public schools.