OP-ED:Tri-City Herald, October 14, 2004
(This article is not available elsewhere on the Internet)

Charter Schools Improve Education without Raising Taxes

By DON C. BRUNELL, Special to the Herald

Referendum 55 provides Washington voters with an opportunity to improve our public schools and increase school accountability—without raising taxes. The status quo is this: 30 percent of kids drop out before they graduate from high school. Fifty percent of minorities drop out. These kids are falling through the cracks despite the money that has been pumped into the system.

We need another course of action. Referendum 55 will change the status quo and help struggling students get the education they deserve. Approving Referendum 55 will allow local communities to convert persistently failing public schools into tuition-free, charter public schools. These schools help students improve academic achievement through innovation, more parental involvement, and less bureaucracy. And charter public schools work.

Over the last several years, charter public schools in Colorado have outperformed comparable public schools in nearly every area, while serving high percentages of minority students. Michigan has seen a 43 percent increase in reading scores among charter public school fourth-graders. In the Chicago area, 12 out of 13 charter public schools are outperforming traditional public schools on standards-based tests and in graduation rates. Charter public schools are helping students around the country learn and excel in academic achievement. It's time we had the option here in Washington.

R-55 is a modest proposal that was carefully crafted by Democrats and Republicans in the Legislature to include strong accountability and oversight provisions. And they made sure the measure required strong local control.

Under R-55, charter public schools will be voted on by local school boards who are required to hold public hearings to review applications. Once approved, charter public schools can hire only certified teachers, cannot discriminate in admissions, and must undergo regular performance audits.

Under R-55, student funds follow students to charter public schools, just as funds follow students when they move to another public school in the district. On top of that, R-55 will actually bring more resources to our public schools by allowing Washington state to receive a share of the $200 million a year in federal funds earmarked exclusively for states that authorize charter public schools. This year alone, California received $25 million while Oregon received $5 million.

It's time we change the status quo and work to ensure all of our students have the opportunity to succeed in school. R-55 will help solve the dropout rate and increase student achievement, with real accountability and without raising taxes.

Approve R-55 supporters include Bill Gates; Sam Smith, former Washington State University president; the Association of Washington Business; David Shaw, past Pasco superintendent; Democratic and Republican elected officials, and a diverse group of educators, parents, and teachers throughout the state. Please join us in improving our public schools by approving R-55. You can learn more about R-55 by visiting www.ApproveR55.org.

Don C. Brunell is president of Association of Washington Business, Washington's oldest and largest statewide employer organization. It has 4,300 members of which 85 percent are small businesses.

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