What are public charter schools-and how are they public?

Charter schools are independently-managed public schools operated by approved nonprofit organizations. Just like traditional public schools, charter schools are funded by local, state, and federal Tax dollars based on student enrollment, but they have the freedom to be more innovative while being accountable for improved student achievement.

On September 4th, 2015, the State Supreme Court surprised us all when they ruled our state public charter school law unconstitutional. The most recent ruling from the King County Superior Court in December 2013 indicated that charters were public schools, and cleared the way for the State Charter School Commission to authorize new schools. We moved forward with support of the law, consistent with an urgent need to serve our students and their families.

The State Supreme Court had this appeal for almost a year. Waiting until our schools were open and serving 1,200 WA students to publish a ruling is extremely frustrating. In the case of Destiny Middle School, 200 families have been sending their children to school since August 24th.

The Court decided that public charter schools like ours are not “common schools,” as they are not overseen by an elected school board, and therefore cannot receive public funding, basing their decision on a precedent set in 1909. This decision is not based on the value of the charter school system, but instead on the funding mechanism.

What makes charter schools successful?

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, charter schools are successful because they are:

  • Fostering New Strategies for Student Success: Charter schools allow teachers the freedom to be more innovative in the classroom, using strategies that are new to Washington — but proven to improve student achievement. By giving teachers the ability to bring proven methods to help students learn, charter schools are developing effective new teaching models that can be replicated in traditional public schools. With the flexibility to modernize and develop successful new education practices, teachers improve learning and share results with the wider public school system for broader benefits.
  • Increasing Achievement in Underserved Communities: Charter schools believe all students are capable of learning and succeeding, and provide an important public school option to students from underserved communities and low income areas. By creating an environment tailored to these students’ needs, charter schools have successfully demonstrated that underserved children can achieve at the same levels as their peers in more affluent communities.  Additionally, charter schools bring programs to disadvantaged neighborhoods that serve the whole community, providing parents with education on parenting, nutrition and more.
What makes charter schools different?

Charter schools are free from many rules and regulations that apply to traditional public schools, so they have more flexibility to set curriculum and budgets, select teachers and staff, and offer more customized learning experiences for students. This means that teachers and principals have more flexibility at the school level to meet the needs of their students and help them succeed.  It also means that parents have more options within the public school system to find the best learning environment for their children.

In exchange for this flexibility, charter schools are held more accountable for showing improved student achievement. Public charter schools must meet the same state and federal academic standards as traditional public schools, but they are subject to additional rigorous academic, financial, and managerial requirements as specified in their charter contract — and to ongoing monitoring to evaluate their success in improving student outcomes.

How are charter schools making a difference?

The National Alliance of Public Charter Schools cites the following results which show that charter schools are making a difference:

  • 16 academic studies have been published on charter school performance since 2010, including four national studies and 12 regional studies from throughout the country. 15 of the 16 found that students in charter schools do better in school than their traditional school peers. One study found mixed results. The most recent of those studies, by the Center for Research on Educational Outcomes at Stanford University, found that charter schools do a better job than traditional schools at teaching low income students, minority students, and students who are still learning English.
  • In 25 schools districts around the country, more than 20 percent of all students attend a public charter school. New Orleans has a higher percentage of children in charter schools than anywhere else in the country. Students attending public charter schools in New Orleans learn an additional four months in reading and five months in math than their peers attending traditional public schools. Statewide, students attending public charter schools in Louisiana gained an additional 50 days of learning in reading and 65 days in math compared to their peers attending traditional public schools.
  • Children who attend charter schools are more likely to graduate from high school than their traditional school peers.
  • At one charter school in Arizona, BASIS, students scored higher on an international test called the PISA than students from anywhere in the world. At the Success Academy charter school in Harlem, every fourth grader passed the state’s science exam. In 2012, every high school senior at an Uncommon charter school took the SAT exam, achieving an average score that was 20 points above the College Board’s benchmark for college readiness.
  • And charter schools continue to disproportionately top the lists of America’s best high schools inNewsweek, US News and World Report, and the Washington Post. In fact, more than a quarter of the best high schools on these lists are charter schools.
Who is in charge of public charter schools?

Charter schools are approved by and accountable to their authorizers.  The word “authorizer” refers to the state entity or institution that has the legal right to issue charters to those who want to open public charter schools. An authorizer is also responsible for oversight of these schools.

The word “charter” is the same as a “contract.” A “charter” is granted to a new public charter school and covers the school’s mission, program, goals, students served, methods of assessment, and ways to measure student success. Washington’s charter school law requires strict oversight and accountability. Charter schools are subject to annual performance reviews as well as ongoing oversight by the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Public Instruction to measure their success in improving student outcomes.

How are public charter schools funded?

Charter schools are funded based on student enrollment, just like traditional public schools. When a student transfers from a traditional public school to a public charter school, the funding associated with that student follows him or her to the public charter school. Public charter schools do not add any new costs to the state’s public education system. They simply move funding associated with a student from one public school to another based upon the decisions of families.

The Washington State Supreme Court ruled on September 4th that charter schools do not qualify as “common schools” under WA Constitution and therefore cannot receive public funding intended for those public schools.

How will struggling students benefit from charter schools?

Charter schools offer all students best practices and innovative learning opportunities designed to increase their academic success and ensure they are ready for college and career. Research from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University shows that charter schools are particularly effective in benefiting low-income students, students from communities of color and English-language learners.

What about special education services?

Washington state charter schools serve all students, including those with special needs. Charter schools also have more flexibility than traditional public schools, so they are uniquely situated to provide high-quality educational services to students with various learning needs.

How will charter schools decide which students to accept?

Any student in Washington state can attend a charter school, and they do not have to compete for a spot at the school. However, if more students want to attend a specific charter school than there are spaces available, enrollment is determined by a random lottery.

Will public charter schools abide by education laws and the Common Core State Standards?

Yes. Charter schools, like all public schools, must follow Washington state and federal health, safety, civil rights, and anti-discrimination laws, as well as Washington state K-12 education statutes, including the Common Core State Standards.

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Green Dot Public Schools Washington

1301 E. 34th Street
Tacoma, WA. 98404

Phone: (253) 382-2400
Fax: (253) 382-2401


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