Last month was National Charter School Week and Mother’s Day. What better gift could we have given to the mothers of children in Washington state than to drop the ongoing effort to stop kids from attending a charter school?
A charter school is a community-based public school that operates independently of central district management and administrative rules. Charter schools are tuition free and open to all students based on family choice. Charter schools aren’t for everyone; only 5 percent of public school children attend a charter, but they are proven to work in educating the most disadvantaged kids.
Mothers like charter schools. Nationwide, more than 2.5 million children voluntarily attend 6,500 public charter schools. Many charter schools have a waiting list of families seeking to get in. Charter schools represent the fastest-growing and most successful education reform in public education today. In most states, opening a new charter school is cause for joyful celebration by the community.
In Washington, eight charter schools expected to serve 3,565 students are scheduled to open soon. Another 4,900 students are waiting for more charters to be approved. All of these new schools will serve students who are at risk of failing in their traditional schools. For example, First Place charter school in Seattle’s urban Capitol Hill neighborhood will serve homeless children.
Charter schools are generally smaller than traditional public schools. On average, a charter school enrolls 372 students, about 22 percent fewer than other public schools. This allows charter schools to have smaller class sizes and provide more personal attention to students. A smaller learning community also promotes a feeling of safety and security within the school. Many charter schools offer more time on instruction than traditional schools and are open to students more days of the school year and more hours each day.
Charter schools operate for less money on average than traditional schools, and a 2013 Stanford University study found they perform better at teaching reading and just as well in teaching math. Importantly, teachers at a charter schools are hired as individual professionals. They aren’t forced to pay dues to the powerful Washington Education Association union as a condition of employment.
That may be why WEA union executives badly want to stop charter schools from opening. Lawyers for the union are pushing a lawsuit—League of Women Voters, Washington Education Association, et al versus State of Washington—that would repeal our voter-approved law and ban Washington children from attending any public charter schools. If the union’s effort succeeds, thousands of vulnerable children will be denied the learning opportunity their mothers believe is best for them.
Expanding learning opportunities for disadvantaged children is something we should all cheer and encourage, not oppose with briefs, lawyers, and courtroom maneuvers.
Executives at the WEA should drop their ill-considered lawsuit and join Washington families in celebrating the opening of eight new schools that will help poor children learn, grow, and succeed.
Liv Finne is director of the Center for Education at the Washington Policy Center, a conservative Seattle-based think tank.
(Editor’s note: Spokane-based PRIDE Prep School of Technology and Science, the first charter school approved in the state, is expected to open in the fall of 2015.)
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