The most closely contested of Washington's four ballot measures has been decided. Fortunately for students, parents, teachers and taxpayers, the state will join 41 other states that offer public charter schools.Initiative 1240 was passed with 50.8 percent approval on Monday afternoon. Unlike most ballot measures in our state, I-1240 was smiled upon by voters on both sides of the Cascade Mountains, passing in 19 of 39 counties, including 11 on the west side of the state and eight on the east side. Locally, 52.1 percent of Clark County voters supported public charter schools.
Over the next five years, a maximum of 40 charter schools will be implemented around the state, and it remains to be seen if any will be started here. No Clark County cities are among eight that the Washington Policy Center (WPC) says are likely debut sites for charter schools: Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, Everett, Kent, Yakima, Tri-Cities and Bellingham.
School boards in both the Vancouver and Evergreen districts adopted resolutions opposing public charter schools, but the sites will be determined by a new charter school commission, whose members will include three appointments each by the governor, the Senate president and the House speaker.
It's important to understand the definition of public charter schools. According to the "Yes on 1240" campaign, the new schools will have "strict oversight and public accountability, and their performance in improving student learning will be rigorously evaluated to determine whether additional charters schools will be allowed." WPC points out: "Although most of Washington's 295 school districts will be unaffected, Initiative 1240 brings new hope to parents in communities underserved by existing inner-city schools."
As we have editorialized before, I-1240 is attractive for several reasons. If the charter schools do not meet clear and rigorous performance standards, they face relatively quick closure. Priority will be given to students "who are most at-risk, including low-income students and those who are struggling in traditional public schools," according to the "Yes on 1240" campaign. Also: "Public charter schools do not charge tuition, are open to all students and receive funding based on student enrollment, just like traditional public schools."
The biggest challenge to supporters of public charter schools has been history. Three times previously, similar measures have been rejected by voters. This time, the proposal was written with enough safeguards and performance standards that approval finally was gained.
The biggest challenge to opponents has been campaign spending. They were outspent 10-to-1 this year, and they ran up against major support donors including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
Modern students deserve all the innovative thinking educators can provide. They also deserve nimble administrators and strict guidelines that allow quick course corrections when necessary. Those are just a few of the guidelines of I-1240. It's a good plan, and we welcome its implementation.