If the initiative is approved, every dollar that goes to a charter school is taken away from a local classroom. For example, in Thurston County each charter student would receive an average of about $10,000 of public funds. This is not new money, but would be taken from already limited school budgets.
We bring attention to this critical issue as the elected board of directors for Educational Service District 113, an agency which provides support and services to 70,000 students in Thurston, Mason, Lewis, Grays Harbor and Pacific counties. We work on a daily basis with 44 districts and understand the negative impact of taking money out of local classrooms to fund a special opportunity for a select group of students.
Earlier this year the Washington Supreme Court ruled that the state was not meeting its constitutional obligation to fully fund basic education. The court mandated that the Legislature should begin to immediately fix this problem. Until that mandate is achieved we certainly should not take money away from our already under-funded local schools with a new and unproven approach.
Even if the funding for charter schools wasn’t taken from public schools, this initiative is an unwise use of tax dollars when, according to a recent Stanford University study, only 17 percent of charter schools significantly outperform traditional public schools and 37 percent performed significantly worse. Here are a few other issues to ponder when considering Initiative 1240:
• Your local schools are governed by a publicly elected boards of directors accountable to local voters. Unless a charter school is initiated by the school board, it would have no oversight over a charter school operated within the district. In that situation, there would be no locally elected official accountable for the schools.
• Charter schools are exempt from many state statutes and rules required of public schools which creates a separate and unequal school system. Our state constitution requires a uniform system of education for public schools.
• In addition to the state funding, charter schools are also eligible to receive local levy dollars and federal allocations. If a charter school enrolls students from a private school there would be an additional loss of levy funds for the school district within which the charter school is located.
• While school districts must accept everyone who appears at their doors regardless of race, language, economic status or disability, charter schools would be able to choose students through a lottery.
• According to the Public Disclosure Commission, supporters of Initiative 1240 had raised more than $4 million by August. With the campaign’s planned media blitz closer to the election, that amount could easily double. One should ask why there is so much private funding supporting this initiative. Could it be that corporate for-profit education ventures would like a larger piece of Washington’s education pie? The 40 schools authorized by I-1240 could have annual budgets of more than $100 million annually. You be the judge about what’s motivating the substantial funding behind this initiative.
Local publicly funded school districts, governed by an elected board of directors, are the cornerstone of American democracy. They should be adequately funded not weakened by the creation of publicly funded private-type schools operated for a selected few.
Charter school ballot measures have been defeated in Washington three times in the past 16 years because voters believed in a strong public school system with equal access for all.
Rejection of Initiative 1240 is best for all students.Educational Service District 113 is one of nine regional agencies in Washington that provide service and support to the public school districts in their region. ESD 113 serves school districts in Thurston, Lewis, Mason, Grays Harbor and Pacific Counties. It provides support to 44 school districts and approximately 70,000 students. ESD 113 board members contributing to this article include Bill Brumsickle, chair, Rick Anthony, vice chair, Diana Goldy, Howard Coble, Rex Comstock, Harry Carthum and Dean Winner.