Washington State: Celebrating The First Charter School Applicants

October 22 was the deadline for the first charter school applicants to submit letters of intent to create charter schools in Washington state. What an exciting time! Nearly two dozen letters of interest were submitted throughout the state. The first charter schools may open in fall of 2014, or most likely, in fall of 2015. Washington state will be the 42nd state to authorize charter schools.

The road to chartering in Washington state has been particularly rocky. Chartering has failed four times in various ways, at the legislature, the ballot box, and the courts. But this time is for real. Washington state voters approved the third best charter school law in the nation at the polls in November, 2012. They have a well-prepared process in place to approve applicants with a strong chance to succeed. Washington state has opportunity to learn from the mistakes of other states.

And Washington is fortunate to have a coalition of four highly credible and innovative organizations to make sure that happens. I was pleased to be invited to Seattle October 22-23 by Chris Korsmo and Mary Beth Lambert of the League of Education Voters; Lisa Macfarlane of Democrats for Education Reform; Robin Lake of Center on Reinventing Public Education; and of course, the leaders of the newly-formed Washington State Charter Schools Association. I was able to share the pioneering charter school story with Lynne Varner, Editorial Writer and Columnist of The Seattle Times and with TVW.

I particularly enjoyed the luncheon Innovation Forum hosted by the Center on Reinventing Public Education. I teamed up with Shannon Blankenship (left), who recently moved to Seattle after years of leading one of the highest performing charter schools in Minnesota—Hiawatha Academies.  Chartering is about both quality and innovation. It is about customizing choices to meet the needs of youth, some of whom may be falling through the cracks of the district schools. We talked about innovations in chartering such as teacher partnerships providing teacher autonomy to lead the schools where they work. We were pleased to see Parasa Chanramy from Stand for Children at the Forum; she worked several years at another high-performing and innovative charter school in Minnesota: Harvest Prep.

That evening, I was interviewed by Lisa Macfarlane at a public forum about the origins of chartering, and what lies ahead for Washington state. The same objections and concerns being raised about chartering in Washington state are the same objections raised in Minnesota over twenty years ago when the first law passed in 1991. These objections have been repeated around the country, but they are not valid. How do I know that? Because today there are over two million students attending over 6,000 public charter schools with nearly one million names on waiting lists! Chartering is supported by nearly 70% of the American public according to the September, 2013 Kappan/Gallup poll.

I am grateful to the Washington State Charter Schools Association for providing my book, Zero Chance of Passage: The Pioneering Charter School Story to attendees of these forums and to opinion leaders. The story is most powerful in a state like Washington, which is just beginning its chartering journey. We must learn from the past to inform the future! I’m delighted that Washington families will soon receive more public education choices for their children—you can’t have too many opportunities for our kids!