The top priority of most citizens in Washington state is to improve education. It’s the right priority.
And this is why it makes sense for the voters to embrace Initiative 1240, which would allow charter schools to be established.
Charter schools will not be a panacea that changes the culture and focus of mainstream public education. Charters schools are public schools run independently with more freedom to take different approaches to learning.
Allowing independent schools simply provides options for students who need a different style of learning or who want to focus on a specific area of study such as math and science or the arts.
Initiative 1240 would allow up to up to 40 charter schools over the next five years, essentially as a test. Charter schools now operate in 41 other states with success. This proposal has several rich, high-powered advocates. Bill Gates has personally donated more than $1 million to the initiative. His Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, has dropped $100,000 for the cause. The parents of Amazon executives Jeff Bezos — Mike and Jackie Bezos — have contributed $450,000.
Under I-1240 any nonprofit group could start a charter school in the state if its plan is approved by either a new statewide commission or a local school board that has been authorized by the state school board to approve charter schools.
The schools, which will be financed by the state, can’t charge tuition and must be open to all students just like traditional public schools. However, unlike traditional schools the public charter schools would be exempt from some state regulations, including some of the rules regarding hiring and firing teachers.
This concept is not embraced by the state teachers union. In addition, there is opposition by those who fear charter schools will take money away from traditional schools, thus weakening them.
The concerns are overblown.
Charter schools aren’t for everybody. Only a small number of families will opt to send their children to charter schools.
Running charter schools well is a huge amount of work. The expectations for the schools — and their students — would be high. Those who opt to take this nontraditional route are generally passionate about their cause. That passion can be contagious and, as a result, great things might occur.
Charter schools will create options for students whose needs are not met now. These schools could also serve to push and energize the rest of the public education establishment.
We urge voters to approve I-1240 as another step in improving education in Washington state.