Catch the excitement: new charter schools will do great things for disadvantaged students

We are getting closer to the day when charter schools are finally a reality in Washington. 22 potential charter school operators submitted applications, all seeking to open new charter schools that will serve communities that badly need a new approach. Evaluation teams are considering the applications now, and in February the state charter schools commission will choose eight schools to open in fall 2014.

That is good news for all Washington schools. The innovation and energy from charter schools will invigorate educators at public and private schools around the state, but not everybody is excited about it.

The state teachers union and other groups filed a lawsuit, under consideration now, to declare charter schools unconstitutional. For the union, this lawsuit is about what many other education issues are about for them: control. As is so often the case, their suit is about the adults in the system, not about what’s best for the kids.

It’s unfortunate, but predictable. The News Tribune, in an excellent editorial, summed it up this way:

“A collection of anti-charter groups is trying to strangle these schools in the cradle with a lawsuit now in Thurston County Superior Court. Its attempt to prevent even one from opening – anytime, anywhere in the state – seems almost unhinged. It suggests that opponents don’t fear that the schools will fail, but that they’ll succeed.”

Washington’s voter-approved law requires charter schools to focus on underserved communities. While the teachers union’s legal challenge is no surprise, it’s unfortunate that groups like El Centro de la Raza and the League of Women Voters joined them in the suit. For families stuck in failing schools, a neighborhood charter school can be a lifeline, but the lawsuit seeks to quash those options.

Charter schools are public schools, despite what the union’s lawsuit may argue. They are accountable, innovative, and focused on students who, through no fault of their own, may be left without options for a quality education. The goal of the opponents’ lawsuit may not be to block new options for these kids, but that will be the practical effect if they succeed.

The TNT rightly notes that Washington, having the benefit of learning from other states about what charter systems work well, now has a charters law with rigorous standards and the right focus. While charter opponents highlighted a Stanford study from 2009 that showed problems with some charter schools, they’re not talking about that study anymore. Why? Because the latest results show great gains by charter schools.

One reason for that is because underperforming charter schools don’t survive. As the TNT says, “That’s a good thing. Try to shut down an underperforming traditional school.”


-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.