School board association hosts meeting on charter schools; 12 districts delay plans to open charter schools
Monday, July 1st was an important date in the implementation of Initiative 1240, the voter-approved measure that legalized charter schools for Washington school children. That was the deadline for interested school districts to submit an application to the State Board of Education to become a charter school authorizer.
Surprisingly, 12 of the 13 school districts that earlier had expressed interest in opening charter schools have delayed plans to become charter school authorizers. Only education leaders at the Spokane School District say they will move ahead to provide access to charter schools for their students the fall of 2014.
The fall-off in charter school interest among school districts dates from a meeting held June 4th at the Olympia offices of the Washington State School Directors Association (WSSDA), the statewide professional association of school board members.
The school board association was a major player last year in the unsuccessful effort to defeat Initiative 1240. The organization passed a resolution urging a “no” vote and endorsed the “No on Charters 1240” campaign. In a September statement WSSDA president Mary Fertakis called the creation of a state charter school commission “troubling” and expressed opposition to allowing local school boards to open charter schools.
The June 4th meeting was also attended by school district officials, charter school activists and representatives of the powerful Washington Education Association union. In the weeks following the meeting, officials from all but one of the school districts that attended concluded they will delay seeking to open a charter school in their communities. The next deadline for interested districts is October 1, 2013.
Meanwhile, the new State Charter School Commission is working on rules to allow community groups to open charters schools with direct approval from the state. The pace of the rule-making has been steady and deliberate, but the Commission has yet to hire an Executive Director.
Initiative 1240 has been law for seven months. At the current pace of implementation it is possible the state commission will not be ready to open charter schools to students in 2014-15.
The Spokane School District, however, is moving forward quickly and will certainly be the first district in Washington state to offer its students access to one or more charter schools.
David Engle, Superintendent of the Port Townsend School District, explained that small districts like his were unable to meet the July 1 timeline, a tightly compressed time frame this first year of implementation. Superintendent Engle said, however, that "we are interested in becoming a charter district so that all of our schools can deliver an alternate, experiential, place-based learning model around the unique maritime character and economy of Port Townsend."
Imagine that. Perhaps Port Townsend will become Washington state's first charter school district, a district where every school enjoys the freedom to innovate allowed by the charter school model. This district is working hard to transform and improve their schools by creating a "cohesive, place-based curriculum that unifies learning along a central focus for a student's entire school career." To learn more about Port Townsend's vision for making school relevant and exciting to its students, see their Maritime Framework White Paper, available here.
I’ll continue to write about developments in the implementation of the charter school law as they occur. This report is part of Washington Policy Center’s Initiative 1240 Follow-Up Project.