We can all agree about the need to improve public education in northwest Washington. But a charter schools measure on the November ballot is a bad move.
Initiative 1240 forces the state to spend millions on unproven ideas for a few, while ignoring proven solutions that will benefit all of Washington's schoolchildren.
Ask any parent with school-aged kids, and they'll tick off what we're doing wrong in education. We cram more kids into classrooms than 46 other states. Our kids read outdated textbooks and prepare for the 21st century economy with outdated technology - or no technology at all. We've cut music and the arts, physical education, higher-level math, science and foreign languages. We've eliminated teachers so that too few students receive the attention they need to truly shine.
We know this is unacceptable. In fact, we're actually under a court order to change.
In a groundbreaking legal action that brought together families, community groups, public school districts and education organizations, the state Supreme Court determined this year that the state had failed its constitutional duty to provide funding for basic education for our kids.
And the Supreme Court made its ruling before the Legislature whacked an additional $2.6 billion from the K-12 budget.
Our goal must be to educate each and every student, not spend precious resources on just a tiny fraction of kids. Attendance at over-capacity charter schools will be set by lottery. By contrast, our local neighborhood schools educate all children.
I-1240 doesn't provide any additional funding for its 40 charter schools, which would all be funded by taxpayers. In fact, I-1240 takes away funding for existing schools.
The way state educational funding works, each student is allocated a certain amount of money and the money follows the student. If a charter school is set up in a community, there will be less money for the existing neighborhood public school. That could have real impacts in the classroom.
And there's no guarantee charter schools would perform better. The most extensive study on charter schools done so far conducted by Stanford University showed that only 17 percent of charters perform better than traditional public schools, while twice that number perform at a lower level.
That's a gamble with our children's education we don't want to make.
Proponents of I-1240 talk about bringing accountability to education, but the initiative creates a new oversight bureaucracy in Olympia that is staffed by unelected political appointees. This commission can grant charter schools in communities over the objection of the local school board. That means charter schools would have access to your school levy even if your school board doesn't support them.
And if you have a problem with a charter school, you'll have to walk the halls of Olympia to get an answer. By comparison, your local school board members have to face re-election. That's real accountability.
There's a myth out there that our public schools don't believe in innovation. Don't believe a word of it.
Here in Whatcom County and across the state, our public schools are doing amazing things considering they are chronically underfunded. Charters don't have a record of success, and many suffer from high staff turn-over. It's essential to their business plan - they can't afford experienced teachers. What a disservice to our children, since we know experience improves teacher quality.
I-1240 is the fourth try to bring charter schools into Washington. The others failed at the ballot box. And so should this one.
We ask that you join us and the Washington State PTA, the Washington Association of School Administrators, the League of Women Voters and many others and vote to reject I-1240.
Bill Lyne is a Bellingham resident and professor at Western Washington University.