Considering that -- as stated in the state constitution, and as affirmed by the state Supreme Court — basic public education is the state's paramount duty, it is time for the people of Washington to approve the establishment of charter schools. It is time for Washingtonians to vote yes on Initiative 1240 on Nov. 6.Unlike some supporters of the measure, we aren't going to pretend that charter schools are a panacea for public education. There are valid reasons for not supporting the ballot measure — namely, that it won't cure all of our schools' ills. But the positives that would be brought about by passage of I-1240 outweigh the negatives, and the structure of the initiative goes to great lengths to enhance the strengths of charter schools while minimizing the drawbacks.
• The measure would allow up to 40 charter schools statewide to be instituted over a five-year span. The impact on established public schools would be small rather than amounting to a complete overhaul of the state's educational system.
• The measure would give priority to charter schools that would serve at-risk students and communities. It specifically requires charter schools to submit targeted plans for recruiting and serving at-risk students. This wouldn't be a case of parents in, say, Mercer Island deciding they have a bone to pick with their local school and deciding to start their own.
• Teachers in charter schools would be subject to the same certification requirements as other public-school teachers.
• Charter schools would be subjected to annual performance reviews in order to evaluate their success in improving student outcomes.
Washington voters rejected charter-school ballot measures in 1996, 2000 and 2004, which might make this effort sound like the proverbial dead horse. But considering that 41 other states have some form of charter schools, it makes sense for Washington to approve Initiative 1240 and take advantage of what has been learned in other states.
As Chris Korsmo of the League of Education Voters, a group that supports I-1240, said: "If bringing what works elsewhere here is scary for people, the status quo for a lot of kids is a far scarier thing."
Among the benefits is the fact that charter schools — by nature small in their enrollment and flexible in their curriculum — are more easily started and more easily shut down than typical public schools. If a school cannot demonstrate that it is effectively providing what it promised, that school can be closed.
Yet if a charter school is successful in a particular area, the local traditional schools would be pressured to improve, and the state would be pressured to provide more charter-school opportunities in that area. That would be a win-win scenario.
The fact is, schools are much different places than they were when most voters attended them. The diversity of experiences and opportunities among today's children is much greater than it used to be, as are the methods under which certain students learn best. Charter schools often are better suited for tailoring a curriculum to specific needs.
Which brings up what often is a misnomer about charter schools. Yes, they are independently managed and are operated by nonprofit organizations, but they remain public schools supported by public dollars and beholden to the taxpayers. That, perhaps, is the most important argument in favor of I-1240. Public schools are designed to serve the public, and the establishment of charter schools can be an effective tool in enhancing that service.