Rep. Jan Angel, R-Port Orchard, has received hundreds of emails on the pros and cons of charter schools. Angel is still undecided on the concept.
She has visited several charter schools. "Some work really good and some don't," she said.
Will the fourth time be the charm for charter schools in Washington?
Two companion bills are working their ways thorugh Washington's Senate and House to create charter schools with an accompanying cousin-like version called a Transformation Zone District.
Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Bellevue, introduced the bipartisan Senate bill — believing the timing is much riper now than the state's last flirtation with this controversial concept in 2004. Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, introduced the same bipartisan bill in the House. Of the 57 schools that the state government sees as the lowest-performing academically, five are in his district, he said.
More states — 41 plus Washington, D.C. — have charter schools than in 2004, Tom said. Plus, America is currently doing serious soul-searching about education, and there are 5,275 charter schools in the nation.
Glenn Anderson, R-Fall City, is the chief co-sponsor of Pettigrew's bill. He said Washington has not made sufficient progress is in addressing the gap between "the educational haves and have-nots."
Tom said, "Washington has a history of innovation (in education), and this bill will add one more option to that flexibility, ... We've taken the best of what works." Pettigrew said:" It is supposed to be targeted to those students who are not doing well."
"Charter schools are by no means a panacea. But I think excellent opportunity" to try to improve education, said Robin Lake, associate director of the University of Washington's Center on Reinventing Public Education. Much of her research is on charter schools.
Critics, though, are already questioning whether the bill is tightly drawn, and they point out that state voters have repeatedly rejected charter schools.
The charter school portions of Tom's and Pettigrew's bills are set up as follows.
An "authorizer" — which could be a school district, a four-year college, or a new Washington State Charter School Commission — would hire a non-profit corporation to run a charter school. Up to 10 charter schools could be created each year, accumulating up to a total of 50 such schools. These arrangements would be five-year contracts with options to renew.
A majority of each year's 10 schools would be expected to serve what the state would specify as educationally disdvantaged students. In theory, then, a minority of the schools could be aimed at students other than economically disadvantaged such as artists, science-oriented students, or others. And the wording of one section sets up a situation where the majority of schools could be for such purposes if there are few charter applicants seeking to serve disadvantaged students.
The non-profit corporation would have significant leeway in how to run its school. For example, a teacher in a needed speciality could be paid extra when hired, as opposed to being paid according to a union contract with seniority and education credits being the biggest factors in a teacher's wages. Or pay increases could be based on merit rather the seniority, Tom said. Another potential area for leeway would be in extending hours or days of school. The charters would have exemption from many state regulations.
The school's students would not pay any tuition, and, if there were too many students applying to admit them all, they would be selected via lottery. Preference would be granted to siblings of existing students, and a limited number of preferences would be allowed for the children of a school's founders, board members, and full-time employees.
Charter schools would likely use existing buildings, although the door is open to building new schools, Tom said. The rental and construction money could come from the state's capital budget or from outside philanthropic donations, he said. Charter schools would not have the power to levy their own taxes.
The State Board of Education would supervise whether the authorizers and the non-profit corporations are performing well.
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