Perhaps now is time to give charter schools a try

Different approaches to education are needed, particularly now in these tough economic times.

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Washington state has a lot of concerns about education - from preschool through graduate school. Money is tight, which has forced the state to cut funding for high education and hold the line - as in tread water - in its funding for K-12.

As a result, lawmakers in Olympia are looking for better, more efficient ways to educate our children.

Last week, a group of Democrats dusted off a proposal to allow public charter schools in Washington state. The plan has been discussed by lawmakers on numerous occasions and has been rejected by voters three times - 1996, 2000 and 2004.

The concept is worth discussing but any plan approved needs to be modest in scope, essentially a pilot plan. The cost for taxpayers must also be minimal. It would also be a good idea to run it by voters since charter schools have garnered a trifecta of rejections.

Still, times and circumstances change. Charter schools, which are allowed in 42 other states where they seem to enjoy success, could be an idea that's ready to come to fruition.

Charter schools are funded by tax dollars but are essentially run by parents. Some charter schools provide a curriculum that specializes in areas such as math, science or art, while others simply take a different approach to learning than more traditional public schools.

In 2004 the Legislature approved a plan to allow for a creation of up to 45 charter schools over a six-year period as an experiment to see if charter schools can work.

The proposal was put on the ballot by opponents of charter schools because some saw it as a threat to traditional public education. When students go to charter schools the state dollars allocated for each student go with them to those schools. In addition, teachers' unions aren't crazy about charter schools because they tend to hire non-union staff.

We endorsed the plan in 2004. We didn't see it as a major threat to our public education system. Instead, we saw it as a viable option for those who desire different approaches to learning.

"Why would you want to prevent schools that people are clamoring in other states to get into?" said Rodney Tom, D-Medina, a proponent of the plan.

Sure, it's a rhetorical questions but a good question nevertheless.

Education options have proven successful in Walla Walla. Currently high school students have options beyond Walla Walla High School. They can attend Lincoln High School or apply for the Running Start program that allows them to take classes at Walla Walla Community College.

Charter schools would simply offer more options for students and their parents.

Again, Washington needs to start small to see that charter schools work and ensure the state can provide effective oversight without breaking the bank.

The idea of allowing charter schools should be pursued.

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