Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What is the State of Charter Schools in Washington State?

The state of charter schools in Washington State is uneven at best.

Since the original 2012 law was passed for 40 schools in five years, we are now at 12 charter schools.  The first charter school - First Place - closed in a year due to both financial and management issues.  Now, a second charter, Soar Academy in Tacoma, a K-8 school, is closing at the end of this school year, mainly due to Special Education costs.

Soar's closure will end the only K-12 continuum of charter schools in the state.

And yet, the Seattle Times, a local charter cheerleader, hasn't bothered to cover it.  An oversight? I doubt it.

From the News Tribune on Soar's closure:

Funding special education was a large piece of the financial struggle, according to the Charter School Commission. The state’s 13.5 percent per-school funding cap created challenges for SOAR, where 20 percent of students qualify for special education services. 

The “closure at the end of this school year is a clarion call to the charter school sector that we have a lot of work to do to figure out how we fund special education in our state so that schools like SOAR have the opportunity to thrive,” Cindi Williams, who chairs the Washington State Charter School Commission, said in a news release.
Oh the irony.

Charter schools and their supporters are seldom seen on the front-lines of advocacy for public education funding in Washington State.  They seem content to allow groups like PTA and teachers unions and Washington's Paramount Duty to do the heavy lift in Olympia while charters gain new dollars from those efforts.  This was especially true with the fulfillment of the McCleary decision to fully fund our public schools.

Many charters throughout the country serve fewer numbers of Special Education students and I think the Washington State charters didn't want that ding against them so they took on more Sped students and lo and behold, it costs a lot of money.  So now in Olympia you see many charter schools and their supporters (including LEV, the Seattle Times and others) advocating for better Sped funding.  Their added pressure - with that of traditional public schools - may shake more money out of Olympia for Sped.

Read more here: https://www.thenewstribune.com/news/local/education/article225264320.html#storylink=c
Because our state took so long - thankfully so - to get to allowing charter schools, we have probably benefited greatly.  National trends show charters faltering (but it's not because national charter cheerleaders aren't trying, it's just that it's not helping).

Current Charter Schools in Washington State

There are three charter schools in Tacoma - Soar Academy, Summit Olympus High School, and Green Dot's Destiny Middle School.  (For those who don't know, Green Dot and Summit are chain groups of charter schools in Washington and California.)

Tacoma SD, led by former SPS CAO Carla Santorno, seems to be cordial to charters but also holding them at arms length.  I recall in the early days when the first charters started up, a couple of Tacoma School Board members came to a Washington Charter School Commission meeting asking how to limit the number of charter schools in a district.  Unfortunately, there is no limit for any given district. 

Walla Walla 

Update: Willow's Executive Director just stepped down. 

end of update

There is a newly opened charter school this school year in Walla, Walla, called Willow Public School.  It currently serves grades 6-8 but is probably expanding (I can't find this information at their website so I'm going off another source.) Each student gets a Chromebook and the school uses the Summit platform of curriculum (which, yes, comes from the Summit group of charter schools and has got its own issues, the least of which is many students hate it).


Seattle has four charter schools; Summit Atlas (to be 6-12)  in West Seattle, Summit Sierra downtown (9-12), Rainier Prep (grades 5-8 and an independent charter) and Green Dot's Rainier Valley Leadership Academy (which will eventually be 6-12 in two different buildings).


There is one charter school in Tukwila from a group, Impact Schools, with Puget Sound Elementary.  Interestingly, the former head of the Alliance for Education, Sara Morris, is part of this school.


There is also one charter school  in Kent, Excel Charter School, which will eventually be 7-12.  It is run by Green Dot after it faltered as an independent charter school.

These 10 charter schools were all approved by the Washington State Charter Commission.

There will be a new charter school coming online in 2019 -  Ashe Prep Academy, an eventual K-8 school, in Skyway/Renton.


Spokane SD, the only district authorizer in the state, has Pride Prep Middle School and Innovation High (6-12) and Spokane International Academy which is K-8 at two different sites.  I note that Spokane SD seems to have done well with its forays into charterland but have not expanded beyond that.


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