Charter schools need accountability to public

LAURIE DOLAN Courtesy photo

Every child deserves an opportunity to learn and a chance to lead a successful life. But when it comes to learning opportunities, one size does not fit all students. That’s something I quickly learned during my 30 years working in education.

I am a strong proponent of alternative learning options for kids that need opportunities outside the traditional educational setting.

However, I’m an even stronger supporter of our state’s constitution.

Once again, the legality of private charter schools is currently before our state Supreme Court. And once again, I’m confident the court will toss out Washington’s latest charter school law due to a fatal flaw: public tax dollars cannot be used to fund private charter schools that lack transparency and accountability.

In spite of heated political pressure, it is incumbent on the Supreme Court to reinforce their 2015 decision and put this issue to rest for good.

Private charter schools that are exempt from public oversight are not the solution to the challenges in the K-12 education system. Instead the state should stay focused on real solutions that are already in place and showing positive results in improving student performance. We should aggressively expand — and fully fund — alternative learning options within the public school system.

I supervised several of these alternative learning programs over the course of my career. I oversaw programs such as The Medicine Wheel Academy that engages students through Native-based learning, and the Apple Program that requires a greater amount of parental involvement in student learning.

These programs, and many others right here in Thurston County, work wonders for our kids. They’re successful, in part, because there is clear transparency and accountability tied to academic outcomes.

Private charter schools lack this critical transparency and accountability. They are not governed by locally elected boards. They are not subject to the same level of auditing and reporting as public schools, and taxpayers have no way of knowing how that money is spent.

We would never tolerate that lack of transparency with any other government program. We especially can’t tolerate it when it comes to educating our kids.

This debate is where it should be: in the courts. For the 1,700 current private charter school students, I hope the court resolves this issue once and for all, and soon.

The Legislature’s focus must now be on Washington’s 1.1 million public school students. No more delays. Education must be fully funded this session to ensure every child has opportunities to learn.

Laurie Dolan of Olympia was elected last month to a two-year term as state representative in the 22nd Legislative District.