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Seattle Times Ed Board: Legislature shouldn’t put charter schools on the back burner

Two major education issues face the Washington State Legislature as it reconvenes this week for the shorter 60-day session — McCleary and public charter schools.

Building off unprecedented new investments in public education in recent years, lawmakers still have more work to do to address the Washington Supreme Court’s McCleary rulings regarding education funding. In our 2016 Policy Agenda, we urge the Legislature to “address the Washington Supreme Court’s McCleary rulings in a manner that leads to student achievement gains, maintains the state’s commitment to career and college readiness, and supports economic health.”

The other issue – one that must be addressed during the short session – relates to finding a fix for the state’s public charter schools. A Washington Supreme Court decision last September declared our public charter school law to be unconstitutional, putting in jeopardy more than 1,300 students enrolled in the state’s nine public charter schools.

A Seattle Times editorial this morning urged the legislature to prioritize the charter schools fix “in a way that aligns closely with the original, voter-approved initiative.” The piece highlights SB 6194 (“Concerning public schools that are not common schools”):

Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, and Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Renton, have proposed an approach that is most promising in mirroring the charter school bill and allowing charter schools to continue and new ones to start. Senate Bill 6194 would use the Washington Opportunities Pathways account to pay for charter schools and other publicly funded education programs that also don’t qualify as common schools, such as tribal schools and the Running Start program.

The editorial board for the Spokesman Review also supports a solution that will keep charter schools operating. From an editorial on Sunday (“Good news for charter schools”):

We support the schools because they provide an outlet for innovation and a learning environment for students who may not thrive in a traditional setting. If successful, they can provide the impetus for traditional schools to adopt more effective methods.

The challenge for lawmakers is to propose a way for charters to retain autonomy while being directly accountable to the public, or to find a funding source that would pass constitutional muster.

The continued operation of public charter schools is a a top priority for us in 2016, as noted in our 2016 Policy Agenda:

Nearly two-thirds of students in Washington’s existing public charter schools are from low-income families and almost 70 percent are students of color. Lawmakers should support current and future students by passing legislation allowing for the continued operation of public charter schools.

We’re pleased state lawmakers aren’t wasting any time. A hearing is scheduled for Monday at 1:30 PM to discuss the charter school bills introduced thus far. Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter for updates on this issue throughout the session.

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