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Counterpoint: Charter schools offer families choice in public education

Last month, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that charter schools  – which voters approved in 2012 – are unconstitutional, due to the fact they are not governed by elected boards and are therefore unaccountable to taxpayers. As Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson asks the court to reconsider their opinion, we present two differing views on the issue. The below opinion is from Shirline Wilson, parent to a student at new charter school Rainier Prep. To read an anti-charter school opinion from teacher Angel Morton, click here

When my family exercised our vote in favor of charter schools two years ago, we had every intention of following our vote at the earliest opportunity. While we understand there is no silver bullet that addresses every student’s need, the very existence of choice creates a window of opportunity for our family to find programs that address our child’s passion for learning and match his strengths.

We have three children—one in college, a high school student and a middle school son. We have spent 26 years putting our three kids through school. I am a technology professional and my husband began his career as a teacher, and has since built a business as a writer and publisher. We recognize through our own life experiences the importance of preparing our children for college, the workforce and the world beyond.

We chose Rainier Prep — located in Highline — for our son, Miles, because of the enthusiasm of the school administration, great teacher qualifications and well prepared support staff. Further, my youngest son was excited about the opportunity to go to a school focused on his interests: Science, technology, math and giving back to his community. Rainier Prep also has a diverse school board who bring a range of real-world experience.

We knew it was the right fit for Miles, and our whole family was brimming with excitement at the start of the school year.

Shirline Wilson.
Shirline Wilson.

Just a week after Rainier Prep opened its doors, the State Supreme Court ruled that our voter-approved public charter school law was unconstitutional. This ruling, made nearly a year after the court began reviewing the case, denies us adequate choice in educating our children. The status quo—business as usual in the public education dialogue—is not acceptable, and we respectfully voted and advocated for the emergence of choice in our schools.

For our family, it’s not about public charter schools versus traditional district schools. It’s about the freedom to choose what is best for my family and our individual children’s learning needs.

We have studied the progress of public charter schools nationwide, and we are heartened by the fact that there are notable improvements in academic outcomes for students of color, who in our personal experience have been and continue to be historically underserved by the school choices in our district.

It is unacceptable that children of color—my own included—are being so tragically and vastly underserved for their basic education needs. For the last four years, we have turned to a private school to give my son the education he needs and deserve, and it has been a great expense for our family.

Our decision to enroll in Rainier Prep was about free choice, about picking a public school that provides what our child needs emotionally, culturally and academically. It is about seeing him happy and loving learning for a lifetime.

When I asked Miles about his experiences with Rainier Prep so far this year, he lights up and shouts, “Mom, I love my school! I have a best friend already, and I really love my teachers.” He has gone from a child with great anxiety about learning to a child enthusiastic about his classes, his teachers and his new friends.

Rainier Prep, which is free and open to all students, provides a learning culture and structured accountability that a child like Miles – who has focus challenges and a learning disability – really needs. For our family, not having to pay the equivalent of college tuition for basic education means we can shift our focus on putting our hard earned money toward saving for college, knowing that Miles’ learning needs and college preparations are being met.

If the option to attend Rainier Prep were closed off to us, it would cause great harm to our family—academically, financially and emotionally.

What’s more, the court’s decision could impact more students than just Miles or the 1,300 other kids who attend charter schools. The state’s attorney general recently filed a motion asking the Court to reconsider its ruling, arguing that the decision could invalidate a wide range of school programs.

That’s because the same glitch the court says disqualifies public charter schools from receiving funding could also de-fund tribal compact schools, Running Start programs that provide high school students with college credits, and any other school program that isn’t directly supervised by an elected board.

The Court and legislature need to fix this glitch. Miles is a great kid, and he and so many other kids in charter schools deserve better than what they were getting. He deserves the opportunity to learn with enthusiasm, received personalized support and pursue his dreams.

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