Charter schools provide important public option to help struggling students succeed

Yes: I-1240 provides an important public school option to help struggling students succeed

September 30, 2012 

As a proud graduate of Tacoma Public Schools, an advocate for public education and an elected official who cares deeply about our city and state’s future, I urge you to join me and cast your vote for Initiative 1240.

Studies show that public charter schools help struggling students succeed. It’s because of this simple fact that I’m voting yes on I-1240.

There are more than 290 school districts in the state of Washington. A yes vote on I-1240 will allow the creation of up to 40 public charter schools over the next five years. This is hardly radical when you consider that they already exist in 41 states. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, representing more than 1,000 city leaders, unanimously supports public charter schools. They know that today’s economy is not the same as it was 20 years ago, and in order to compete for jobs of the future, students in our schools need more options, not fewer.

Charter schools are public schools. They are independently managed by approved nonprofits and are free and open to all. Students must meet the same academic standards as students in traditional public schools. There is no application required to enroll.

Public charter schools must meet the same academic standards as traditional public schools, and their teachers must meet the same certification requirements as teachers in other public schools. However, public charter schools have more flexibility at the school level in setting curriculum, budgets, scheduling and staffing. This flexibility allows public charter schools to better meet the individual needs of students and create customized learning environments that can help students succeed – especially those who are struggling in traditional public school settings.

I-1240 does not change current state law regarding public school funding. I-1240 will provide more options within the public school system. In 2001, Tacoma Public Schools opened the School of the Arts, a new addition to the existing portfolio of comprehensive high schools. In 2008, Lincoln Center (modeled after KIPP charter schools) opened within Lincoln High School. Both provide choice and innovative learning environments for students.

Neither of them is accused of taking funds from public schools because they don’t. Nor will public charter schools. The money follows the student.

I-1240 is based on laws in the states with top-performing public charter schools. A mandated authorization process ensures strict accountability. These schools can be overseen at the local level by your local school board or a state charter school commission.

Research from MIT, Stanford and Harvard have repeatedly documented that in states with comprehensive charter school laws, public charter schools outperform traditional public schools, especially those serving students who are low-income, living in urban communities, are children of color and are English-language learners. I-1240 is modeled after laws of states that have demonstrated student success.

Everyone knows that public schools work well for most students, but not for all. Roughly 14,000 children a year drop out of school in Washington. That number is unacceptable. We must do better. Public charter schools are one proven way to address this ongoing crisis.

I-1240 cannot solve systemic problems such as lack of parental involvement or poverty. What it can do is enhance our public school system by adding flexibility to benefit our students and teachers.

Washington prides itself on being a forward-thinking state that leads innovation. We are the home of Boeing, Nordstrom, Amazon.com and Starbucks, yet we are one of nine states without public charter schools. Every state that surrounds us and every state that competes with us economically has public charter schools. It’s time we change that; Washington students deserve the same options that are available to students in other states.

I-1240 is supported by a bipartisan coalition of teachers, parents, legislators, education advocates and community leaders across our state and is endorsed by every major newspaper in Washington. I urge voters to learn more about public charter schools and I-1240 by visiting YESon1240.com.

And I hope you will join me in voting yes on 1240.

Marilyn Strickland is the mayor of Tacoma. She is an education advocate and serves on the U.S. Conference of Mayors Public Education Task Force.

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