Washington’s public charter schools have faced fierce resistance, particularly from the state’s teachers’ union, since voters endorsed them on the initiative a decade ago.
This year, lawmakers must finally reject uninformed and politically motivated opposition to these outcomes-based learning communities and pass two bills that will remove unfair barriers to their success.
Washington charters provide free public alternatives for students who don’t live in affluent school districts and can’t afford expensive private education. Most enroll higher percentages of students of color, students living in poverty, and people with disabilities than traditional schools in their area.
But the state only approved 24 of the 40 charter schools authorized by Washington law before the authorization window closed last April, according to the Washington State Charter Schools Association. New schools cannot continue unless this deadline is extended, including at least two developing schools 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 clearance deadline to 2027, giving these groups and others the opportunity to finalize their proposals. It is sponsored by Rep. Debra Entenman, D-Kent, a former charter school skeptic who says she has come to appreciate the role of charter schools in engaging families and supporting students of color.
“I look at a lot of our charter schools and I see a diversity of students in those buildings, and I see success as well,” Entenman said.
Entenman’s bill was referred to the House Education Committee on January 13. Committee chair Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, is expected to schedule a public hearing to give community members a chance to make their case to lawmakers.
“We don’t have a billionaire giving money to us,” said Sarah Sense-Wilson, Oglala, Lakota. She is president and co-founder of the Urban Native Education Alliance and worked on the Seattle proposal. “Charter schools are the only other option.”
The second bill, HB 1591, would address the systematic underfunding of charters by giving them access to up to $1,550 per student in levy equalization funding for extracurricular activities, academic enrichment and essential support staff. .
By law, charters cannot access local levy funds that traditional school districts use to supplement basic education revenues. This reduces charters by about $1,550 to $3,000 per student, depending on the district, according to the Charter Schools Association. Placing charter students at such an unfair disadvantage betrays the very purpose of the Public Charter Schools Act.
It’s not the first time that lawmakers will consider these two issues, which have been suspended in committee in previous sessions. This time lawmakers must stand up to political pressure and do what is right for our children attending these public schools.