The state wants charter schools to follow the same financial-reporting rules as other public schools, but has encountered some unexpected backlash. It’s the first clash in an otherwise peaceful relationship with the state as charters ramp up in Washington.
Washington state wants charter schools to follow the same rules as other public schools when it comes to keeping their budgets.
But what were supposed to be unremarkable changes — extending to charter schools more than 100 pages of financial rules that already apply to other schools — ended with unexpected backlash against the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) last week.
Charter proponents say the regulations would give OSPI too much oversight over the publicly funded but independently run schools, which voters here approved in 2012.
It’s the first bump in an otherwise smooth relationship between charter-school leaders and the state, which is in charge of making sure those schools are paid.
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Simply including charter schools in the same financial rules that traditional public schools follow makes the most sense, said Dierk Meierbachtol, a special assistant for legal affairs at OSPI.
But the Washington State Charter Schools Association disagrees, saying charters were guaranteed more flexibility than typical public schools and the state shouldn’t apply the same rules whole cloth.
Among the points of contention: that charters should be held to the same staffing ratio as regular public schools and that new charters must contract with a particular agency — called an educational service district — during their first year of classes.
Charter schools should not be bound by these mandates, said Tom Franta, head of the association.
That’s because charter schools were supposed to be free from many of the restrictions governing typical public schools, in exchange for agreeing to a set of goals.
The law is clear that OSPI should have a supervisory — not a controlling — role over charters, Franta said. “These regulations, in my view, start to creep into that area of control or oversight,” he said.
OSPI says the regulations are not a power grab.
Instead, they are meant to help charter schools start on the right foot and report their finances correctly, said JoLynn Berge, OSPI’s chief financial officer.
“This was, for us, just something that we never expected anybody to have an issue with,” Berge said.
Franta said he hopes to work with OSPI to tailor the rules so charter schools get the most flexibility possible. So far, he said, he’s been pleased with what he called a collaborative relationship with OSPI staff.
The state plans to have the new rules in place before the fall, when eight new charters are to open around the state. One charter, First Place Scholars in Seattle, is operating in Washington so far.