The Facts

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      Are charter schools public schools?

      Yes, and like any other type of public school, Washington public charter schools are:

      • Open to all students
      • Tuition-free
      • Publicly funded
      • Staffed by certified teachers
      • Held accountable to state and national standards

      In exchange for more accountability, public charter schools have more flexibility around staffing, length of the school day and year, and curriculum than traditional public schools. The increased flexibility lets them innovate and customize learning to meet the needs of their diverse students.

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      Who is attending public charter schools, and how did they choose their schools?

      Public charter schools provide parents with an additional free and high quality option for their children’s education. Parents choose public charter schools, not the other way around. And no one is assigned to public charter schools. Public charter schools are free and open to all students and the schools are not allowed to hand-pick or discriminate against students for any reason. If a school does not have room for all of the students who want to attend, students are admitted by a random, public lottery.

      Washington’s public charter schools are helping to close the education equity gap. More than two-thirds of students in public charter schools are from low-income families and more than 70 percent are students of color. Mid-year testing results show rapid gains for students across multiple schools in both reading and math and that many students previously performing behind national averages are now on track to meet grade-level standards.

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      How do the results at public charter schools compare to traditional public schools?

      Washington's public charter schools are already making a difference for students, with mid-year testing results show rapid gains for students across multiple schools in both reading and math and that many students previously performing behind national averages are now on track to meet grade-level standards. Nationwide, 15 of 16 independent studies found that students attending public charter schools perform better academically than their peers at traditional public schools. 

      More than two-thirds of Washington’s public charter school students qualify for free or reduced-price school meals. More than 70 percent of students in Washington’s public charter schools are people of color, who have historically been underserved by our state. The vast majority of students attending Washington public charter schools struggled in their previous schools, with many students entering public charter schools a year or more behind in math and reading. 

      The results are already showing great gains for charter students across Washington. At Spokane International Academy there have been rapid reading gains and more than 60 percent are on track to meet the year-end reading goal, up from 2 percent.

      At Excel Public Charter School in Kent students are on track to make 1.5 years of growth in reading this school year. In Tacoma, Destiny middle school has seen nearly two years of growth in reading levels in less than three months. And at Summit Sierra in Seattle high school students have advanced one and a quarter years growth in math and one year of growth in reading in less than four months. These results show how big an impact charter schools can have on Washington students in a very short time. 

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      What kind of oversight do public charter schools have?

      Many checks and balances ensure public charter schools provide a quality education. Just like any public school, public charter schools are overseen by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction and the State Board of Education. Public charter schools also have to comply with the same state and federal laws regarding health, safety, civil rights, and nondiscrimination as every other public school. Public charter schools must meet the same academic standards as any public school; their teachers have to meet the same certification requirements as any public school teacher; and students have to pass the same standardized tests. 

      To authorize a public charter school, a non-profit organization applies to a local school district or to the Washington State Charter School Commission. The application is rigorous and requires:

      • A detailed curriculum
      • A facility and financial plan
      • Demonstration of parent and community support
      • Plans for serving students with special needs
      • A targeted plan for recruiting students in underserved communities
      • Evidence that the proposed educational program is based on proven methods

      The process also includes an opportunity for the community to provide input during a public forum.

      After a public charter school’s application is approved, the school enters into a contractual relationship with the state or district level authorizer. The contract requires extensive oversight of financial and academic performance, and public charter schools must seek reauthorization every five years.

      The boards that oversee public charter schools are subject to state and non-profit financial audits and have to answer to the community. Since families choose their public charter schools, those schools are directly accountable to parents and must ensure they are meeting parents’ standards and expectations.

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      Who is teaching at public charter schools, and how much are they paid?

      Public charter school teachers must be certified, just like teachers at traditional public schools. Reflecting the diversity of the students they serve, 39 percent of Washington’s public charter school teachers are people of color, compared to 13 percent at public schools statewide. Washington’s public charter schools provide good jobs for local educators.

      Public charter school employees, including teachers, have a strong voice in their workplace. They have the right to organize and collectively bargain for pay, benefits, and working conditions. Teachers at public charter schools earn as much or more than teachers at traditional public schools.

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      Do the non-profit organizations that operate public charter schools profit from the schools?

      No. All Washington public charter schools are operated by non-profit, non-religious organizations.

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      How are public charter schools funded and what is Senate Bill 6194?

      Public charter schools are funded based on student enrollment, just like traditional public schools. Like any public school, public charter schools depend on a mix of federal and state funding.

      The Washington State Supreme Court ruled that public charter schools cannot be considered “common schools,” because they are not controlled directly by local school boards. Because of a hundred-year-old technicality, our public charter schools lost 20 percent of their funding and the future of these innovative and vital schools is at risk. We’re asking lawmakers to fix the glitch.

      Senate Bill 6194 would do just that. It honors the will of Washington voters by reinstating and updating the 2012 voter-approved public charter school law to keep public charter schools open and address the uncertainty students face as a result of the court’s ruling.

      Funding would come from the state’s Opportunity Pathways Account, which contains lottery revenues. The change does not affect the amount of money taxpayers or the state pays for each student. It simply designates a different source of funds for the students in public charter schools.

      The court did not rule that public charter schools must be common schools to constitutionally exist. In fact, the Washington State Constitution allows for public schools that do not fall under the definition of common schools.

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      How the legislature can preserve the will of the voters

      Washington legislators have the power to fix the mess the court created. Our public charter schools are already making a difference for students, with early results showing remarkable progress in math and reading. We can’t let legislators erase what the voters approved.

      When the voters of Washington passed the 2012 initiative to create 40 public charter schools, they weren't agreeing to a one year plan. That would make absolutely no sense. And yet we’re still hearing of an anemic “fix” from some members in the state’s legislature.

      But you can't run a school or state one year at a time. And a one-year plan would effectively shut down all public charter schools throughout the state. It’s not a fix, it’s an eviction notice. And that’s not what the voters agreed to.

      Senate Bill 6194 honors the will of Washington voters by reinstating and updating the 2012 voter-approved law to keep public charter schools open and address the uncertainty students, parents and teachers are facing. The state legislature simply needs to do what the voters asked for:

      1. Fully fund approved public charter schools statewide

      2. Allow for up to 40 public charter schools over 5 years

      3. Give all students and parents access (maintain the voter approved statewide authorization plan).

      Washington voters already said yes to this. Our elected leaders represent the people, and the people have spoken: Keep our public charter schools open.