SEATTLE — Washington’s largest charter-school chain misappropriated state funds by enrolling dozens of 4-year-olds in kindergarten and must repay about $790,000, according to the state’s charter school oversight agency.
In Washington, children must be age 5 by Aug. 31 to start kindergarten. Impact Public Schools asked the state Charter School Commission in 2020 for permission to create a state-funded transitional kindergarten program for children who lack high-quality early learning opportunities, or who are determined to lack the skills needed for kindergarten.
The commission voted that transitional kindergarten could begin no earlier than 2021 in the charter schools it oversees because it needed to develop evaluation measures and regulations. It also needed to resolve a legal conflict: To qualify for state transitional kindergarten funding, students must first be assessed to show need. However, state law bars charter schools from that kind of screening prior to enrollment in order to prevent charters from selecting higher-achieving students.
In fall 2020, state officials discovered that Impact had enrolled 4-year-olds anyway, saying all were able to skip straight to kindergarten.
Impact declined to comment for this story, KUOW reported. Charter School Commission Interim Executive Director Jessica de Barros said she couldn’t do an interview because of ongoing litigation between Impact and the commission.
The commission ordered Impact to reimburse the state for the kindergarten funding but to keep the children in school to minimize disruption to their education.
Impact challenged that decision in court, claiming that it was within its rights to enroll the 4-year-olds in kindergarten after the commission would not allow transitional kindergarten that fall.
Thurston County Superior Court Judge Mary Sue Wilson in an April ruling said that, by screening the 4-year-olds for kindergarten readiness, Impact had clearly violated the charter-school law and its contractual prohibition on pre-enrollment screening.
Wilson affirmed her decision in May after Impact filed for reconsideration. Impact has appealed the ruling.