Would public charter schools help, hurt our kids?

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Ballot wording

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?

Yes

No

Yes: Kids, parents need education options

By Jeanette Muck

As an involved parent of students who attend public schools, and as an active member of the Parent-Teacher Association both locally and statewide, I'm a strong supporter of our public school system and its teachers. That's why I support a "yes" vote on Initiative 1240, which will allow more public school options for parents, students and teachers in our state.

I-1240 will finally allow the option of public charter schools in Washington, just like 41 other states already have. Public charter schools are an important public school option that students in Washington deserve to have.

Public charter schools are independently managed public schools operated by approved nonprofit organizations and overseen by a local school board or a state commission. They are tuition-free and open to all students, and receive funding based on student enrollment, just like traditional public schools do.

Public charter schools are subject to the same academic standards as traditional public schools, and their teachers are held to the same certification requirements as teachers in other public schools. However, charter schools are provided more flexibility to meet the individual needs of their students, and in making decisions about budgeting, staffing, curriculum and scheduling. This flexibility is an important option for parents, teachers and students.

Based on the best

I-1240 is based on the best charter school laws in other states that have allowed their charter schools to achieve outstanding results. Because of that, I-1240 brings the best of what's working in other states to Washington, including strict accountability and oversight, and measures to encourage and assure community and parent involvement and support. I-1240 also assures parent representation on the state charter school commission.Our traditional public schools are working well for many students, but not for all. Every year, more than 14,000 Washington students drop out of school. More than a thousand of those kids drop out right here in Clark County.

We can do more — and we need to do more — to help all children succeed in our public schools. Public charter schools across the country are demonstrating success and helping thousands of students who might otherwise fall through the cracks. Numerous studies have shown that public charter schools have "cracked the code" when it comes to helping struggling students stay in school and graduate prepared for college or a career.

I-1240 is supported by a bipartisan coalition of teachers, parents, legislators, education advocates and community leaders across our state, and has already been endorsed by major newspapers across Washington.

It's time to allow parents and students in our state the option of public charter schools as part of our public education system -- just like parents and students in most other states already have.

I urge Columbian readers to learn more about public charter schools and Initiative 1240 by visiting http://www.YESon1240.com. And I hope you will join me and other parents across our state in voting "yes" on 1240.

Jeanette Muck is a former legislative director for the Washington state PTA. She lives in Vancouver and is a parent of two boys who attend local public schools.

No: Gamble would hurt existing schools

By Fauna Woolfe

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.