EDITORIAL: The Olympian, October 21, 2004

Our Views: Referendum 55 Merits Support

On Nov. 2, voters will decide whether Washington will be the 41st state to allow charter schools. Voters should support Referendum 55, which authorizes 45 charter schools during the next six years. The privately run schools that receive public funds will give parents one more option to help their children achieve academic success.

The most compelling case for charter schools can be found in this state's high school dropout rate. About 30 percent of Washington's students are not receiving a high school diploma. The dropout rate jumps to 50 percent among some minority populations. Clearly, today's public education system is not meeting the needs of those students.

Charter schools, just like alternative schools, magnet schools, private schools, home schooling and vocational/technical schools, give parents one more option to meet their child's academic learning style. That's not to say charter schools are a magic solution to the dropout rate. They are not. Charter schools are simply one more alternative to a traditional K-12 classroom.

Under the cautious pilot program authorized by Referendum 55, no more than five schools would be allowed in each of the first three years. After that, no more than 10 charter schools would be allowed in each of the three succeeding years. Public schools could convert to charter school status, or new schools could be formed.

In either case, the nonprofit corporations proposing the charter school must apply to the local school board. The application can be rejected, or a public hearing can be held. Successful charter school applicants will then enter into a contract with the school board. The nonprofit organization can have its charter revoked if the students fail to measure up to their peers in the public school system for two consecutive years. Charters also can be revoked for health or safety reasons.

Proponents make the case that charter schools are exempt from many state regulations that strangle creativity. They say the added flexibility of a charter school, on everything from textbook selection to the length of the school day, generally results in smaller class sizes and increased student performance.

Opponents say charter schools aren't held to the same accountability standards, don't receive sufficient oversight and drain precious public tax dollars away from public schools.

Proponents and opponents cite conflicting studies on the effectiveness of charter schools.

The most convincing case for charter schools comes from Rogelio Riojas, executive director of the Sea Mar Community Health Center. In an appearance before The Olympian's editorial board, Riojas said—and rightly so—that public schools have had decades to put a dent in the 50 percent dropout rate for Hispanics and other minorities. The public school system has failed those children and their parents. It's time to give charter school organizers a chance to succeed and help those students achieve academic success.

Voters should encourage the pilot charter school project by supporting Referendum 55 on Nov. 2.

2004 The Olympian

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