Eight new public charter schools will open their doors this fall in Washington: three in Tacoma, three in Seattle and two in Spokane.
These new schools will include a sizable number of students our state historically has not done a very good job educating: English language learners, students with disabilities and students from low-income families. And that’s precisely why supporters of the ballot initiative to bring charter schools to Washington (I-1240) advocated to bring this popular option here – to provide more choices for families, especially those our school system wasn’t reaching.
News coverage this week of these new schools has been remarkably upbeat, with stories of excited parents, students, teachers and principals anticipating the start of the school year. But getting here wasn’t easy. In fact, charter schools have traveled a long, bumpy, and politically-charged road to Washington (including a pending lawsuit filed by the Washington Education Association to shut them down). Three previous attempts to bring charters here came up short. In fact, our state was one of the last in the U.S. to lift its ban on charter schools.
The Board of EEN have been longstanding supporters of bringing charter schools to Washington, and I and fellow EEN Board member Alison Meryweather played a small part in that effort. Back in 2011, Alison and I asked Washington State PTA members at two statewide State PTA gatherings – legislative assembly and state convention – to consider adding support for charter schools to the State PTA platform. On both occasions a majority of PTA delegates voted in favor of bringing charter schools to Washington, officially adopting our statement of support for them. In 2012 Washington voters did the same thing, voting to support charter schools with passage of I-1240 to help give parents and students more options.
While conversations with voters and the public at large about charter schools at times was highly contentious, the positive energy in news coverage this week marks a new chapter in the story of charter schools in our state. Instead of news reports filled with political sniping, we’re reading and listening to stories about students – no matter their background or circumstance – filled with the hope and promise that every new school year should bring. And that’s something worth celebrating.