State Board of Education pushes for more charter schools and calls for equitable funding

May 8, 2024

The State Board of Education (SBE) just published its seventh Annual Report on the performance of Washington’s 18 charter public schools.  These innovative community-based schools serve a total of about 4,800 students.  As in past years, the State Board finds that children who attend a charter public school receive an education that is as good or better than the one provided at most traditional public schools.

Charter schools are popular.  Many parents regard them as the best option for their children.  Most charters have waiting lists, and attendance data shows that 62% of charter school students come from low-income and minority families.  The State Board finds that low-income Black, Hispanic and immigrant children see greater learning gains in English and math than students at traditional schools.  As a result charter schools have become an essential link in eradicating the “achievement gap" between low-income students and children from wealthier families.

In some quarters, though, lingering anger and hostility against charter families remains, even 12 years after voters passed the state’s popular charter school law.  For example, in 2021 state lawmakers refused to re-authorize new charters, thus initiating a statewide ban on opening new schools.

In a further sign of ill intentions, state budget writers maintain a mean-spirited policy of funding inequality directed against charter school families.  Low-income, Black, Hispanic, immigrant and other children at charter schools receive about $3,000 less per student for their education, as community-based charters are denied any share of locally-raised school funding.

Charter schools are forced to pay monthly rent in the commercial market, the only Washington public schools required to do so.

Despite these obstacles, charter school children are flourishing, prompting members of the State Board of Education to recommend the opening new charters and an end to the policy of funding discrimination.  The Board’s official policy states:

          “Recommendation 1: The SBE and charter school authorizers recommend that the window for authorization be reopened to allow additional charter schools to operate in Washington.  

         Recommendation 2: The SBE and charter school authorizers recommend a close examination of the sufficiency of charter school funding and approaches used in other states in order to bring about equitable educational funding for Washington’s schools.”  

These bold policy recommendations are consistent with Washington Policy Center’s long-standing research findings – that all children, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds –are often better served by a choice-based charter public school than by a traditional assigned-by-zip-code school.

Like the State Board, Washington Policy Center also recommends that lawmakers end the unfair funding cuts they impose on charter school families.

Just last week U.S. News and World Report released its annual ranking of the nation’s best high schools. Public charter schools came in at ranks #1 and #2:    

            “Nineteen charter schools are recognized in the top 100 schools, including the top two spots going to BASIS Peoria in Peoria, Arizona (#1) and Signature School in Evansville, Indiana (#2).

         Although charter schools make up only about 8% of the nation’s public schools, they account for about 1 in 5 of the nation’s top 100 high schools.”

Public charter schools are popular and successful because they operate independently of union control and centralized bureaucracy.  As independent public schools they are more likely to be free of radical Critical Race Theory (CRT), politically-motivated race discrimination and other harmful policies that degrade the quality of education children receive.

The State Board of Education’s latest recommendations are powerful and encouraging.  If enlightened lawmakers can use them to overcome the resistance of hardliners, Washington will go a long way in helping more students gain access to the kind of quality public education that all children deserve.