Simplistic and costly, charter schools aren't solution to state's education problems

We all agree that we need to do better for our kids. But as H.L. Mencken once said: “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat and wrong.”

The charter schools measure on this year’s ballot is a simple solution that is wrong. Fortunately, researchers across the nation are unveiling the myths of this quick fix to public education. The most extensive study on charter schools done so far was conducted by Stanford University and showed that only 17 percent of charters perform better than traditional public schools, while twice that number perform at a lower level.

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.

Washington crams more kids into its classrooms than 46 of our 50 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 Our kids read outdated textbooks and prepare for the 21st-century economy with outdated technology – or no technology at all.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, PE, higher-level math, science and foreign languages. We’ve eliminated teachers so that too many students don’t receive the attention they need.

We know this is unacceptable, and we know what we must do. The state Supreme Court laid it all out.

In McCleary vs. State of Washington – the groundbreaking legal action that brought together families, community groups, public school districts and education organizations – the justices determined that the state had failed its constitutional duty to provide funding for basic education for our kids.

And the McCleary court case came out before the Legislature eliminated 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 overcapacity 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. As a result, I-1240 takes away funding from existing schools. This means if a charter school is set up in a community, there will be less money for the existing neighborhood public school. This will have real impacts in our already vulnerable classrooms.

Let’s not gamble with our kids’ education. We need to have consistent high expectations, world class educators and good schools for all students in Washington state.

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 who can grant charter schools in communities over the objection of the local school board. That means charter schools would have access to local school levy money even if the 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. As former mayors and community leaders, we know how important it is to talk to people and understand what’s going on in their lives. That’s what accountability is all about.

Here in Pierce County, we’re blessed with some of the most dedicated community leaders, parents, educators and students in the state. For example: At the Helen B. Stafford Elementary School, a state-designated “Innovative School” serving mostly low-income children, the fourth-graders outperform the state average in math and writing.

The Tacoma School Board is dedicated to preserving and advancing a whole child approach to education. The board is creating a new and increased accountability system to ensure every child is supported, challenged, engaged, healthy and safe.

The state of Washington already promotes innovation through its Innovation Zones. We don’t need a smoke-and-mirrors approach to education reform. We don’t need I-1240.

Karen Vialle and Harold Moss are former mayors of Tacoma, and Vialle currently serves on the Tacoma School Board.