Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Washington State Charter Applications

The Washington State Charter Commission has released the application form/information for applying to be a charter school.  I am mostly happy because there are items in there that I believe are of great importance and I applaud the Commission for listening and including them in.  My hope was that no school community or district gets caught by surprise by any charter coming into their district (or school building). 

Letter of intent
Each applicant has to file a letter of intent before submitting their application.  It has to be filed 30 days before the application is due (which is Nov. 22nd).  So, by about October 22nd, we should know who is intending to apply to be a charter school.  (I believe Spokane will get their notification about being an authorizer by sometime in September.)

Public forum
Applicants are required to participate in a public forum with the commission. The public forum will be an opportunity for the applicant to engage directly with the commission and for the public to learn about and provide comment regarding the applicant. The public forum is independent of the application process and may be used to evaluate the applicant. Applicants will be given a notice of at least five business days before the scheduled public forum date.

I did ask whether this forum would include the opportunity for parents and community to ask questions of the charter applicant(s) but the Commission felt that wasn't necessary.  So whether a charter applicant will answer questions or not is up in the air but I would think most would realize how poorly it would look - to everyone - if they refused to answer questions. 

Facilities (if an applicant is applying for a charter conversion:)
Applicant must supply evidence that it has notified the encompassing school district of the conversion.

I had asked for this and I had also wanted that the district be required to notify the school community involved.  That's not in here so some school communities are going to have to count on watchdog citizens/groups to make this known.  I would suspect districts might tell communities in order to rally support to keep the school but others might just want the takeover to happen.

Background checks
I am very happy to see that both the governing board and leadership team of any charter applicant will have to pass background checks.  This was NOT in the original law. 

At-risk student preference:
Preference will be given to applications for charter schools designed to serve at-risk student populations.

Like the law, the application is vague on how this preference would play out but I suspect any strong application that has specific plans/inclusion for at-risk students will win out against any other strong application that is not focused to at-risk students.  (Again, though, the definition of at-risk does include under-representation of at-risk students in highly capable programs.  So you could definitely see an advanced learning-type school come in as long as their intake focus is at-risk kids.)

Charter applicants will get a letter explaining the denial but those letters will not be made public (unless someone files under public disclosure). 

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