Update on charter schools – Legislature continues funding discrimination against charter school families

Sep 3, 2019

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Key Findings

  1. Since voters approved public charter schools, 14 schools have opened, four have closed, and five more will open next year.
  2. In 2020, charter schools will serve about 4,000 students attending 15 schools.  
  3. Every year Washington’s charter schools expand to meet strong parent demand for these successful schools.    
  4. Washington’s charter schools are especially popular with minority and low-income families. 
  5. Washington’s charter schools have waiting lists exceeding 1,000 students.  
  6. Washington’s charter schools give low-income, minority students a better school option, especially in urban districts with failing traditional schools.
  7. School officials deny charter school families access to a share of local levy funding, around $2,300 per student, about 17 percent of operating revenue for most schools.  
  8. Charter schools are also denied access to public school buildings, so they are forced to pay rent.
  9. Academic results and consistent public support show that Washington’s charter schools have more than proven their worth in providing key benefits to families.
  10. Lawmakers should end the policy of funding discrimination against charters, remove arbitrary limits placed on them, and respect the choices of parents and teachers in giving every child the best education possible.


In 2012, voters passed Initiative 1240, making Washington the 42nd state to allow the opening of charter public schools. The purpose of these schools is to offer learning alternatives to families that are underserved by traditional public schools.

Washington’s voter-approved public charter school law is one of the best in the country, providing the most innovative and fundamental reform in Washington state public education in a generation.

Washington currently has ten operating charter schools. The Washington State Charter Association reports these schools serve about 3,000 students.  Roughly 60 percent of the students attending these schools are from low-income, minority families, often in urban areas with poor-quality traditional schools.  Some charter schools have been successfully educating students for four years, since the 2015-16 school year, and most have waiting lists and growing enrollment. 

This Policy Note provides an update of Washington’s charter schools and describes the Legislature’s decision in 2019 to institute a policy of funding discrimination against charter school families. This Policy Note also describes the popularity of charter schools locally and nationally and explains why more Washington families want access to more charter schools.

Finally, this Policy Note recommends lawmakers provide charter school families the same fair and equal funding they provide to other public school families, and that lawmakers remove the two-year authorization time limit and 40-school cap currently blocking the growth and expansion of Washington’s charter school sector. 

Download the full Policy Brief