New details about proposals to open some of Washington’s first charter schools should be available today.
The state Charter School Commission received 19 applications from 18 organizations hoping to launch the type of alternative public schools that already exists in most other states. Charter schools in Washington state are designed to be publicly funded and tuition-free but operated independently by nonsectarian nonprofit groups.
Under the law approved by voters last year — a law being challenged in King County Superior Court on constitutional grounds — up to eight charter schools could be authorized to open in Washington during the first round of charter approvals. Those schools could open in 2014 or 2015.
No more than 40 charter schools can be authorized statewide in the next five years.
The commission plans to announce which applications win its final approval no later than Feb. 24.
Charters can be authorized either by the state commission or by a local school district that applies to become a charter authorizer. The Tacoma School Board has twice indicated its intent to become a charter authorizer, but opted out of the process both times. Tacoma could decide to reapply next year.
The only school district participating as an authorizer this year is Spokane, which had three proposals submitted.
Green Dot and Summit operate charter schools in California. (Summit also has proposed opening a charter in Seattle.) SOAR is a proposal from a former Seattle school principal, Kristina Bellamy-McClain, who was selected for a one-year fellowship by the Washington State Charter Schools Association. The Village Academy comes from a nonprofit organization called The Ducere Group, founded by Calyn Holdaway, a Gig Harbor military mom of special needs kids.
The state commission plans to post completed applications from these and other hopeful charter operators on its website Monday.
On Monday, teams of experts hired by the state commission started poring over the extensive applications, which include details such as curriculum and instructional models, background information about school leaders and members of each school’s governing board, projected enrollments, plans for serving students with special needs and a school discipline policy.
Director Joshua Halsey said the charter commission has made no statements on whether it is looking for a particular geographic distribution of charter schools throughout the state.
“We are looking at the merits of the applications,” Halsey said. “The driver is quality. This commission is dedicated to authorizing charter schools that can impact student achievement for the most vulnerable, most at-risk students.”
The commission plans to hold public forums in January, when charter applicants, parents and others can offer comments on the proposed charters. Dates and locations for those forums are to be discussed at Thursday’s commission meeting.
Charters have been a long time coming in Washington, where — until November 2012 — voters and legislators had repeatedly said no to the idea. The charter school initiative was only narrowly approved by voters last year.
Most observers predict that the legal challenge to the law — which comes from a coalition that includes the state teachers union, a group of Washington school administrators, the League of Women Voters, Seattle-based El Centro de la Raza and others — will end up in the Washington State Supreme Court.
There’s still a lot of misinformation and fear about charters circulating here, said Lisa Macfarlane, secretary of the Washington State Charter Schools Association and director of Washington State Democrats for Education Reform.
“The biggest thing to grasp is that these are actually public schools that can only be operated by qualified nonprofit organizations,” she said. “They are allowed to be more innovative, in exchange for higher levels of accountability.”
She has confidence in what she calls a “super-rigorous, multistep process” that Washington charter operators must undergo.
“We have not made it easy for someone to open a school,” Macfarlane said.
To view applications to the state Charter School Commission online, go to 1.usa.gov/1dGHXZo.