Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Charter Schools Ballot Initiative Filed

From the Times:

A coalition of education advocacy groups filed an initiative this afternoon to ask voters once again to allow charter schools in Washington state.

If the groups can collect nearly 250,000 signatures by the July 6 deadline, the issue will go on the November ballot, joining a slew of other high-profile questions.

Well, given that Stand for Children (and who knows who else) will be funded the signature drive, I have no doubt they will get the signatures.

This initiative would cap the number of charter schools at 40, to be established and approved by the state over a five-year period. Priority would be given to charters that serve at-risk students or students from low-performing public schools.

“It’s very unusual to be filing in May,” said Dave Ammons, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office. “Time is very short.”

The initiative was filed by Tania de Sa Campos, the chief of staff of the League of Education Voters. She could not immediately be reached for comment.

While I have no problem with the vote, I have to wonder about the gamble it is. 

1) Voters have voted on this issue three times.  I have to believe for some, it is going to be a major irritation to see it on the ballot again when there is no decent evidence charters work in sustainable numbers.

2) It's a big gamble if it loses.  A fourth loss at the ballot box will stamp "loser" on charters in this state for a long time.  I doubt if any legislator would dare bring them up again anytime soon.

3) Very crowded ballot.  President, Governor, gay marriage.  This could be a plus (people might get fooled by the "help the poor kids" line or they might overlook it.   Again, a gamble.

4) The length and wording of the initiative.  I'll go over that in detail but I suspect it's more of the same.


dan dempsey said...

and ....
Supported by Rep. Eric Pettigrew

SeattleSped said...

A+ Washington, rather belatedly, decided they should claim to carry the special education vote.

"BZZZT", Eh, not mine.

Seateach said...

I'm glad to see it going before the voters. I'm curious to see how it turns out and for voters to make the call.

And I love Eric Pettigrew. He's smart, knows what he's talking about when he talks about schools, and he cares about his district.

Anonymous said...

Surprise, surprise, the $2M went to fund this lame horse.

Mr. Ed

mirmac1 said...

Gee, do ya think the fourth time's the charm?

Watching said...

Here is the text:


Melissa Westbrook said...

Seateach, may I ask what you based your belief about Rep Pettigrew's understanding of education and SPS on?

CT said...

Seateach - voters already made the call THREE TIMES.

Seateach said...

Having met him and talked to him.

mirmac1 said...

Yeah, Pettigrew... Loves that pork barrel politics...

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Melissa Westbrook said...

Seateach, that doesn't tell me much. What did he say that impressed you with his depth of knowledge?

Seateach said...

Sure, Melissa. I don't mind telling you what impressed me about Pettigrew. First of all, he has a lot of respect for teachers that is specific to what teachers do well - great lessons, things he's seen in schools, ways teachers are getting creative with reduced resources. We hear a lot of, "Teachers are heroes!" from people who know nothing about what great teachers can do and who aren't willing to back up their fanclub membership with their tax dollars. Pettigrew admired specific things great teachers do. I appreciated that.

I was impressed with his concrete ideas for making parents more welcome and more connected to schools - not just more informed, but made to feel welcome in the school building. I'm impressed with that because I think it's something schools need to do a better job of. The very parents we criticize for not supporting their kids aren't invited to school unless it's a disciplinary conference (or parent night, or artwalk night, or science night - they're not invited to just swing by). If they show up to try to talk to a teacher or the principal, they're sometimes brushed off because they don't have an appointment. He thinks we need to do a better job of reaching out to and making parents feel welcome, whenever they can find time to come, and I agree.

He was interested in ways to make the transition from elementary to middle and middle to high school better, and asked teachers for ideas on how to do that. The district's never asked about that. Randy Dorn's never asked about that. How many kids do we lose between 5th and 6th grades, or 8th and 9th? Too many.

So, I'm impressed. He doesn't seem to be someone who's read an article and is imposing policy on schools. He's been in schools, he's talked to kids, teachers and parents, and he's trying to make smart changes.

If you don't agree with me, or disagree with things he supports in the legislature, of course you're entitled to that opinion, but that's why he impresses me.

Josh Hayes said...

Our friends over at SLOG have a thread about money and the charter school initiative.

Check it out here.

Watching said...

$7M committed to charter campaign. By who? The usual suspects.:


Anonymous said...

The timing of the Charter ballot initiative is logical. Several things come to mind including the timing of the Seattle school levies, the USCC "case studies" of SPS, our local state and city council reps' musings and PTSA mutterings. Our school board, (especially the 4 more independent voices), has taken some heavy hits from, Seattle Times USCC, and edu business lobbyists. The new Superintendent, Mr. Banda, may be a possible "wild card" for these folks, but if you want charters and control over the public dollars, the Superintendent contract came with some lobbying. I think they'll be more to come.

If I was pushing for a charters and couldn't make it happen in the state house. This is the next step. There are clues as to why and some of them are in the language of the Charter Initiative itself:

****Sec. 222 (6) Conversion charter schools are eligible for local levy moneys approved by the voters before the conversion start-up date of the school as determined by the authorizer, and the school district must allocate levy moneys to a conversion charter school.
(7) New charter schools are not eligible for local levy moneys approved by the voters before the start-up date of the school unless the local school district is the authorizer.

Sec. 223. FACILITIES. (1) Charter schools are eligible for state matching funds for common school construction.
(2) A charter school has a right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed public school facility or property or unused portions of a public school facility or property located in a school district from which it draws its students if the school district decides to sell or lease the public school facility or property pursuant to RCW 28A.335.040 or RCW 28A.335.120.(5)

(5) 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. The charter school is responsible for routine maintenance of the facility, including but not limited to, cleaning, painting, gardening, and landscaping. The charter contract of a conversion charter school utilizing existing facilities that are owned by its school district shall include reasonable and customary terms regarding the use of the existing facility which shall be binding upon the school district.******

Rep. Pettigrew is a politician and the fact that he got concession from a cash strapped State budget of $2 millions for 2 Seattle Schools speaks to his ability for his constitutents. However, "disadvantaged" and underperforming kids are not limited to just 2 Seattle schools or one corner of this city.

If the charter bill passes, it will be interesting which 2 schools get the 2 millions. The charter proponets are betting the $1Billion + levies will be approved because we all want our kids to succeed. Can you already guess which schools will be considered for conversion?


Sahila said...

Morning Fizz: $7 Million committed to the charters cause

With $4 million from Gates?

Anonymous said...

Reading through this charter intitative quickly, it reads like much of other charter initiatives. The detailed rules which will govern charter operation will be written by an appointed Charter School Commission. We will have another agency. The 9 commisoners are appointed, but the agency and its staff will be funded by the state. How big and how much will this cost??????

*****Sec. 208 WASHINGTON CHARTER SCHOOL COMMISSION. (1) The Washington charter school commission is established as an independent state agency whose mission is to authorize high quality public charter schools throughout the state, particularly schools designed to expand opportunities for at-risk students, and to ensure the highest standards of accountability and oversight for these schools.

(2) The commission shall consist of nine members, no more than five of whom shall be members of the same political party. Three members shall be appointed by the governor; three members shall be appointed by the president of the senate; and three members shall be appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives. The appointing authorities shall assure diversity among commission members, including representation from various geographic areas of the state and shall assure that at least one member is a parent of a Washington public school student.
(3) Members appointed to the commission shall collectively possess strong experience and expertise in public and nonprofit governance; management and finance; public school leadership, assessment, curriculum, and instruction; and public education law.*******

Can you guess who will sit on this commission? Who will they hire to for this agency as state employees and consultants? So when business leaders talk about their investment in public education, it is with taxpayer's money once again. Working in "non profit philanthropic" groups always mean looking for funding sources to pay yourself. Once your group can be codified and co-opted into a state agency (or as "consultants") funded by taxpayer dollars, you have found "sustainability". Hallelujah!


Anonymous said...

Can someone explain to me the conversion charter as it relates to the NSAP? For ex. My neighborhood school is Willy Wonka Elementary. The staff/school board/ person behind the curtain covert it to a chater school (via the allowable process). Do I still have to send my kids there since it's my attendance area school? Am I stuck w/ a charter? I guess I go into the 2nd choice school pool for open enrollment but in neighborhoods w/ full schoos, I might (probably ?) won't get in. So ostensibly my choices are be forced to send my kids to a charter school, or move.

I've been curious about that. And if it passes, wouldn't conversions have to happen by open enrollment so parents could make fully informed choices and get out of their converted charter school if they don't want a charter? (not that the OE d.l has ever had any meaning to SPS regarding program changes or transportation changes AFTER parents have locked into a school..)

I'm seeing a nonprofit being formed by parents who want reform in education, but NOT EdReform.. that way we can take donations to give to an anticharter movement.

-sps mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

The conversion charter is a charter. That means you do NOT have to send your child there and it is no longer a neighborhood school. It is in the district but independent of it.

Charters like to be able to control their enrollment to the degree they can. They would not want to be part of any district enrollment plan (although districts have to include them in their enrollment guides - neat trick, huh?). I have no idea when any conversion would "have" to happen. A charter is allowed a year after it's okayed to open.

Now the new twist to this initiative is that they took out colleges and universities as sponsors and now it is only public school districts and the Commission.

Very big game change.

Jan said...

sps mom: I would be curious to know how that has worked (conversion of a neighborhood school to a charter -- where do the kids get sent if they are not part of the charter) in other places. In some places, it sounds to me like charters "share" buildings (must be pretty underenrolled) with regular programs. But if an entire school that currently exists and has students (i.e., NOT a closed building) goes charter?

Anonymous said...

So what happens if a conversion charter happens to the beautiful, new South Shore K-8 school for example? It's a nice new building and once the Rainier Beach Community Center is done.... Wow! That would be a draw wouldn't it and quite an acquisition for any charter operator coming in!

Who decides which school gets to convert? The school board, the parent trigger, the new commission, LEV, Stand?

-how does this work?

Anonymous said...

me too Jan. Very curious.

Melissa, the way you described it is what I suspected. But where do the kids currently enrolled at that school go? I presume they'd be given the option to stay at the conversion charter?

Either way it feels like an eviction or a hostile takeover - this WAS your neighborhood school but now it's a charter. Too bad you've been here w/ various kids for 10 years, too bad it's walkable to your house, too bad you've invested lots of time and money here... it's ours, now move along.

And in areas that have schools already at busting point, where will the kids from now converted Willy Wonka Elementary get assigned to if all the other elementary schools in their attendance area are full?

-sps mom

Melissa Westbrook said...

I would have to go back and look at the initiative but there is nothing stopping charter/public school partnerships or sharing a building. But ask NYC, didn't work out so well because, of course, of equity issues.

If you have an existing school and a charter school gets a charter, they are free to circulate a petition to teachers or parents and ask for a takeover. It's pretty much that simple if they get a simple majority of signatures.

The charter entity gets to decide who they go after. The district has no say (but I'm sure the charter entity will have help from LEV and Stand to pick their school (victim).

The parent/teacher trigger is what decides if it goes charter. You can see what kind of machinations that might entail.

The kids currently enrolled have the first choice of staying at the charter but otherwise, the district gets the headache (and the parents the worry) of where to put them. Do you find another building? Divey them up? Hard to say but it's the district's problem. The charter just has to have room for those who want to stay.

I cannot answer what happens if a school is already maxed out as to where that many kids would go. In fairness, it is unlikely that parents and teachers of a full (and probably popular) school would do this but again - this is NOT a pilot program.

This would be the law and it would apply to every single corner of this district and state.

CT said...

Some of the forced sharing in New York has been awful. In most cases, the charters demand something (like 2 floors for their small classes with hand-picked enrollment rather than 1 floor), and the public school is forced to move and consolidate their packed classes into even less space. A HS friend of mine was telling a nightmare story about how her kid in her public school in NYC had to eat lunch at 10:15 in the morning (school started at 8:30) because the charter school they had been forced to share with demanded access to the cafeteria between 11 and 1 and the influential politicians and rich parents made sure it happened. Her daughter was not eligible for the charter school because she requires special ed services (OT and resource room) for some developmental delays and the charter school did not provide those services.

Of the several instances where I am aware of schools that were public and became charters - either because it was forced (NCLB) or because the parents/teachers/community leaders opted for it - kids were given the opportunity to apply to attend the charter, but it was not a given just because it was their neighborhood school. In one, the school district sent a bus to that school to pick up the neighborhood kids to take them to a true public school.

Anonymous said...

So what if there's a parent trigger, but not the teacher's, who wins? And who steps in and decides for the conversion or not? Will it be the board or the commission? I can't get my head around this because I see Mr. Banda coming in and if this initiative passes rather than focusing on so many things that will affect 40,000 kids, we will be wrangling over one or two schools and a couple of hundred kids. The board, ST, and all the lobbyists will be involved and all the priorities focus on this issue, what will happens to my kids and their education then?

I just see this as adding so much burden and cost on our district right now. Can't we get a break, ever?

-how does this work?

Melissa Westbrook said...

How, the trigger, unfortunately, is for teachers OR parents. (I don't think a combo will work but I'll be reading the initiative again.) So a group of teachers can decide which seems wrong because the number of teachers versus the number of parents is quite different.

The charter will have already been awarded to the charter entity. They then have to decide whether to open their own building or, if they have word of friendly people amenable to change, they can try a conversion.

Having only school boards and the commission deciding application completely changes the game plan (now excluding universities and colleges). You can see how this would make School Board elections more interesting.

The break is if we can try to get the word out "decline to sign". Don't sign the initiative and it will not come to a vote.

Anonymous said...

The conversion process seems rather poorly worded in the proposed initiative. Consider the "petition" for conversion that must be circulated to and approved by a majority of either the parents or teachers. It is not spelled out how it will be worded, how much time there will be for voting, if ballots are counted secretly or each voter must go on record with his or her vote, if there is a right to abstain, who counts the votes, who pays the costs for such a petition, or what happens to non-voters in such a process, such as principals or un-certificated staff. --Analytical One

Melissa Westbrook said...

Analytical, yes, I saw that as well. Very vague and this is what happened in California. They had no real process and the signatures could not be verified.