We don't really know how it would work if an urban charter school in Western Washington became an Alternative Learning Experience program of a rural school district in Eastern Washington.
Since we don't really know, let's make some wild conjecture about it.
State laws regulate schools pretty tightly - teacher:student ratios, the number of hours of planned instructional time each year, and lots more. But state law also allows for Alterntative Learning Experiences (ALEs). In an ALE, so long as the school can show that the students are learning what they are supposed to be learning, a whole lot of the regulations are off. So much for those who claim that innovative education isn't possible within public schools.
In particular, ALEs can allow for a lot of independent study. That's how online schools operate.
Seattle Public Schools has two of these: Cascade Parent Partnership Program and Interagency Academy. In the past, The NOVA Project and STEM at Cleveland have been ALEs, but they are no longer.
If a school district, even a small, rural school district such as Mary Walker School District, chose to do it, they could easily (and profitably) make charter schools, even those far outside the district's geographical boundaries, into ALE programs. Here's how:
After they get all of the students through the process of requesting a transfer from their home district to the new district, they enroll the students in an ALE program. The program can be essentially an independent study program. Now all of the students are responsible for educating themselves and the district is responsible for making sure that they do.
What does the district get out of this? Money. Lots of money. The state money allocated for each of the students. And their cost is the cost of administering an ALE which, if you don't work too hard at it, can be done very cheaply. They just have to fill out the paperwork and administer the state tests. They don't have to provide staff - no teachers, counselors, secretaries, principals, janitors, or nurses. They don't have to provide any buildings, desks, or paper. All they have to do is fill out the forms and submit them to the OSPI. And, if you know the OSPI, then you know that they don't question anything that any district writes on any submitted forms.
Rather than leaving those students out there to fend for themselves, however, the district contracts with an educational service provider to support these students with tutoring. School districts all across the country already do this - No Child Left Behind requires them to do it. Only in this case the school district contracts the work out to the charter school. They pay the charter school to "support" the students' independent study. And how do the charters do that? By operating their charter school just as they normally would.
What does the charter school get out of this?
They get money. Their contract with the district will entitle them to the bulk of the state allocation for the student. They can even make a profit. The charter school law requires them to be non-profits, but as an education service provider they can be a for-profit company.
That's just the start. Charter schools actually get much, much more from this arrangement.
They get free of nearly all accountability save what the school district wants to impose on them. They don't have to live up to their charter - that's out the window. No benchmarks to meet unless the school district sets some - and they don't set any. When was the last time you saw a district close a school for failing to meet benchmarks?
They get free of oversight. They would not be overseen by a state commission. Instead, they have no more oversight than what school districts impose on tutoring services, which is none. No one audits their books. No one questions their methods or practices.
They get free of nearly all regulation. They are not schools anymore. Sure they look like schools and act like schools, and they will call themselves schools, but legally they are just tutoring services, so none of the state laws governing schools will apply to them.
They get free of oversight. No one audits their books. No one tells them what to do or how to do it.
They get to pick their students. Since the students live out of the district's geographical boundary, they have to apply annually for access. The district can deny access to any student they like for any reason. They can set up any enrollment practice they like. And, if students look like a bad risk or don't meet achievement requirements the district can always say that they are not suitable for the Alternative Learning Experience. The district could easily say that students with disabilities, English Language Learners, or students with bad discipline records are not suitable for the ALE.
The district won't hesitate to let students go - especially students that look like trouble or expense. If the student is booted from the ALE they don't go into one of the district's public schools - they go into some OTHER district's public schools. They can tell Seattle and Tacoma to keep their problem kids and take only the ones who are easy and cheap to educate.
This arrangement creates super charter schools that take everything about charter schools and step it up. Do charter schools have little accountability? These will have NO accountability. Do charter schools have freedom from some state regulations? These will have freedom from ALL state regulations and federal regulations too. Do charter schools have friendly oversight? These charters will have NO oversight. Are charter schools able to cherry pick students to some extent? These will be able to select each student and reject entire classes of students. This is the charter school dream come true.
And what does it take to make this happen? A school board that supports the corporatist education reform platform. You know, the kind in the conservative rural areas of the state. Here's the best part - they never have to subject any of their own children to these schools. The district responsible for this scheme is all the way across the state from the students in the schools. They can say that these schools are good for poor students of color without ever having to answer or be accountable to those students' families because they don't live or vote in that district. Why would their constituents object to this deal - it means a revenue stream for their district and therefore more money for their children's schools.
We never needed a charter school law. We just needed people willing to abuse the ALE law in this way.