EDITORIAL: The Spokane Spokesman-Review, October 20, 2004

Charter Schools Good for State

The Washington Education Association would have you believe that charter schools will severely damage public education. The teachers union claims erroneously that the approval of Referendum 55, which would legalize charter schools, will drain $100 million from state education coffers. If that doesn't scare voters enough, the WEA will use words like "vouchers" quot; to denigrate an innovative movement that has become mainstream, embraced by 40 other states.

"The way they're fighting against this reveals an insecurity that ought to cause all of us to shudder," President Richard Davis of the Washington Research Council said this week.

The Spokesman-Review editorial board agrees. The success of the charter school movement in most of the country undercuts the claims leveled by opponents to turn Washington voters against a proposal for change, one which had bipartisan approval of the Legislature and Democratic governor Gary Locke. Charter schools give parents and students another educational choice and provide valuable competition for traditional schools. That would be good for Washingtonians.

The referendum is a more modest version of the 1996 and 2000 initiatives for charter schools, the second of which came close to winning a majority. The referendum calls for opening no more than 45 charter schools statewide over six years, five in each of the first three years and 10 in each of the three subsequent years. The law would require Washington schools to compete and do well in the Washington Assessment of Student Learning and the Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Also, the schools wouldn't be allowed to discriminate. If the measure passes, it would allow failing or struggling public schools to be transformed into charter schools.

Charter schools are public schools that operate under their own guidelines and answer to their own school board rather than a school district. The arrangement enables school officials and organizers to be more flexible, more innovative, and to strive for certain goals. Across the border, in Idaho, the Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy has achieved a regional reputation for excellence with its focus on academics, without harming the thriving Coeur d'Alene School District.

Opponents claim Referendum 55 will drain students and money from traditional public schools. But the Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy's experience indicates that it brings home-schoolers and private-schoolers back into the public system. And Washington's Office of Financial Management estimates the total new public spending would be minimal: about $14 million over five years.

If competition's good for business, it's good for education, too.

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