Real Estate View. There is only one public school building in Seattle where a charter school can open. Every other school building in Seattle is either already occupied by a public school, planned for use by the District in BEX IV, or leased. The new law would only grant charter operators a right of first refusal to purchase or lease school district property, but that only matters if the District decides to sell or lease a property. The law would not empower CMOs to claim real estate from the District. The only space available is Magnolia. TT Minor, Webster, and Lake City are already leased. Genesee Hill, Fairmount Park, E C Hughes, Boren, Columbia, Van Asselt, John Marshall, Wilson-Pacific, and Cedar Park all figure in the BEX IV plan and will not be offered for lease. Schmitz Park, Boren, Columbia, Van Asselt, and John Marshall may become available down the road, as might Webster, but charter schools can't have them if the District decides not to sell or lease them. So I have to wonder: where could a charter school find space?
Conversion Idea. I had this thought that about 40% of Seattle's public schools could win the votes needed for conversion just by promising to switch to Singapore math. They would say that they would keep all of the beloved teachers on staff, keep the principal, keep the librarian and nurse. Basically they would maintain the status quo on just about everything except the math. They would replace Everyday Math with Singapore Math. Yep, that would cause about 40% of the schools to flip. I wonder if the threat of it alone would be enough to get the District to allow them to change the math at the school. Hmmm. Imagine every school demanding changes from the District and threatening to convert to a charter if the district doesn't allow it. Anarchy! Autonomy! A whole new mission for the central administration.
Tiny school by invitation. I don't see anything here that would prevent the creation of a really small charter school. Seriously, one with about fifteen students all in one grade with just one teacher. Imagine a group of pre-school parents who just want to keep it going. Every student in the school could be a child of a charter member with no other students. Just set the capacity of the school equal to the number of children of charter members. There's nothing in the initiative that requires the schools to be of a certain size. The school would have no costs other than the teacher and the materials. The funding would be enough to pay the teacher handsomely and get tablet computers (with access to eBooks) for all the kids. The school could meet at a family home. I'm serious. A group of pre-school parents could come together and form a school like this pretty easily.
Special Education. One of the rules for Washington Charter Schools is "A charter school may not limit admission on any basis other than age group, grade level, or capacity and must enroll all students who apply within these bases." That means that all Washington charter schools must enroll students with IEPs who apply and gain entry. Since the charters are not exempted from federal law, and specifically IDEA, they would have to serve any special education students who choose to enroll. I'm pretty sure this would crush them financially. Likewise, charter schools cannot deny admission to English Language Learners and must provide them with the legally required services as well. Again, this could crush them financially. This is something that public schools are not required to do. There are a lot of public schools that don't serve these students, but charter schools would have to. At least that's how I'm reading the law.
Public Forums. The law provides for a public hearing on every charter school application. Those hearings will be entertaining. I expect something like the testimony we see around the TFA contract.
"The application review process must include thorough evaluation of each application, an in-person interview with the applicant group, and an opportunity in a public forum, including, without limitation, parents, community members, local residents and school district board members and staff, to learn about and provide input on each application."Real Estate/Conversion together. There is no good public school space for a charter, and private space is expensive. Moreover it's easy to win a conversion by promising only a single change - the math curriculum. Together these would suggest conversions are the way to go. Here's the kicker. A conversion school pays no rent:
"A conversion charter school as part of the consideration for providing educational services under the charter contract may continue to use its existing facility without paying rent to the school district that owns the facility. The district remains responsible for major repairs and safety upgrades that may be required for the continued use of the facility as a public school."It's pretty clear that any charter operator who comes to town would much prefer to engineer a conversion than open a new school. The real estate considerations alone make it a far better choice.