EDITORIAL: Tacoma News Tribune, October 20, 2004

Charter Schools Can Help Neediest Students

The way opponents talk about charter schools, you'd think they were educational King Kongs, threatening to stomp and destroy our beloved public schools. The only thing charter schools truly threaten is the status quo—and the power and influence of teacher unions.

It is true that voters have twice rejected initiatives that would have added Washington to the 40 states that allow charter schools. But those rejections have more to do with the education establishment's ability to portray charter schools as malignant, money-sucking monsters than with their actual merits. Unfortunately, that scare tactic is at work again in the fight against Referendum 55, an almost pitifully modest charter-school law approved by the 2004 Legislature.

Lawmakers authorized creation of 15 charter schools over the next three years, with more to follow unless the Legislature decides to pull the plug. Any new charter school must be designed to serve “historically underserved populations” of students. In other words, low-income neighborhoods where student achievement typically lags well behind district levels. So much for the claim that charter schools would be havens for the privileged elite.

Critics also contend charter schools would drain funds from public education. First of all, charter schools are public schools; no one could organize one without school board approval. Charter school teachers must be certified; all regular health and safety rules and requirements like the WASL still apply. And school boards can cancel charters if the independently managed schools fail to perform academically or financially.

Charter school experts at the University of Washington say claims that charters would drain $100 million from public schools is bunk. They estimate that charters would cost an additional $14 million over five years. That would be offset by an anticipated $2.75 million a year in anticipated federal funding.

This page has long supported tuition-free charter schools as a way of encouraging innovation in public education. Charter schools are not a panacea. Some may fail, as do some of our existing public schools; the difference is that bad public schools stay in business.

Across the country, many charter schools have been spectacularly successful, especially in inner-city locations. They tend to attract idealistic principals and teachers with a passion to make a difference. The beneficiaries are kids—kids who need help.

Why should children in some of Washington's poorest neighborhoods be deprived of such an opportunity? Vote yes on Referendum 55.

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