An initiative on November's ballot will give voters the chance to change the landscape of public education in Washington by allowing charter schools in the state.
If approved, Initiative 1240 will allow as many as 40 public charter schools to open over the next five years. But teacher reaction to the idea is mixed.
Charter schools would be public, free and open to any student, with priority given to opening charter schools that serve at-risk students and those attending low-performing public schools, according to the initiative. Charters would be operated by nonprofits, with religious organizations not allowed.
Teachers would be subject to the same certification requirements as teachers in other public schools, and the schools would have to meet the same academic standards. The schools would be freed, though, from some state regulations so things such as schedules, the hiring and firing of teachers and curriculum could be tailored to fit student needs.
That flexibility excites local elementary school teacher and parent Todd Hausman, who thinks charter schools could help students who don't do well in a traditional school setting. He knows that charter schools in other states have had varied measures of success and failure, but he thinks they've been in existence long enough for Washington to learn from schools that have done well.
"There are definitely some common characteristics of high-performing charter schools, and we want to replicate that here," he said. "The reality is we want the best schools for our students, and if charter schools are part of that, then I want charter schools, too."
One of the initiative opponents is the Washington Education Association, the union that represents about 82,000 public teachers and support staff in Washington state. WEA spokesman Rich Wood said what the state needs to do is focus on the schools it has now. It needs to fully fund existing public schools so kids can have smaller class sizes and so arts, music and other programs that have taken big cuts over the last few years can be restored.
"Initiative 1240 doesn't do any of that," he said. "It will serve a tiny fraction of our state's students."
The charter schools will receive public funding based on student enrollment, just like traditional schools. Wood said he's concerned that students moving over to charter schools "will drain money away from existing classrooms." He's also worried that there's no guarantee that the schools would serve at-risk students because if more students apply than the charter school can accommodate, students are selected based on a lottery system.
The initiative calls for annual performance reviews for charter schools, the results of which would help determine whether additional public charter schools should be allowed.