Should Washington voters OK charter schools? No
Gamble would hurt existing schools
Sunday, October 7, 2012
Initiative Measure No. 1240 concerns creation of a public charter school system.
This measure would authorize as many as 40 publicly funded charter schools open to all students, operated through approved, nonreligious nonprofit organizations, with government oversight; and modify certain laws applicable to them as public schools.
Should this measure be enacted into law?
As you consider your vote on Initiative 1240, imagine the following scenario: You suddenly find yourself in charge of the Washington state budget after the worst recession since the Great Depression. Next, you're told that the State Supreme Court just handed down a ruling requiring you to add billions of dollars into K-12 education because you've been ignoring this "paramount duty" for too long.
What would you do?
The sad fact is that this is not a hypothetical situation. This is the problem our elected officials in Olympia are currently facing today.
In the past three years, our schools statewide have faced $2.5 billion in cuts that have forced them to operate on bare-bones budgets with class sizes that place us 47th in the nation. Yes, only three states have larger class sizes than Washington. Studies show that smaller class sizes and early-learning programs are critical to improving student achievement. But they are expensive.
So what would you do?
Instead of dealing with the budget crisis our schools are facing, some are offering an idea called charter schools. But these new schools are experimental and could cost as much an additional $100 million dollars, cutting into existing public school budgets even more.
Before we take such a gamble on this experiment, we should look at the evidence of similar educational systems elsewhere to see if these charter schools are good for kids, right? What if only 17 percent of them performed better than traditional public schools and 37 percent actually did worse? A study of charter schools done at Stanford University shows exactly that. Would you take that gamble with such a small chance of success?
Solution not simple
In Vancouver, charter schools would mean jeopardizing critical programs that have survived the deep funding cuts our school districts have sustained because charter programs would cut into existing public school budgets. We are fortunate to have high-quality math, music and art programs in Clark County. It would be devastating to see those programs cut further to fund an unproven idea.
Quality programs take time to build and cannot just be reinstated at the same level after a few years. Our schools have been asked for many years to do more with less and have risen to occasion, but there are limits. Improving education is far more complex than simply opening a charter school.
Many people who support charter schools oppose I-1240 because it is badly written with fuzzy language about how charters would be supervised and evaluated. Even worse, I-1240 provides no guarantees about where these charter schools will be located or whom they will serve. Some schools will literally have to conduct a lottery to determine who gets in. That's just not right.
The bottom line is that if I-1240 passes, we'll have to divert money for an unproven idea that would serve only a few students. We need to fund proven solutions that serve all students. Let's maintain the stability of Washington's public schools by voting "no" on I-1240. Say "no" to charters for a fourth time!
Fauna Woolfe is a National Board Certified music teacher in Evergreen Public Schools.