|Putting Children First||
Charter Starters File Applications Despite R-55.
The modest charter school bill passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor in March has been suspended by an apparently successful $150,000+ Referendum Campaign filed by Charles Hasse, the President of the Washington Education Association (WEA).
The WEA used a small part of the $55 Million/year in mandatory union dues (1% of all money spent on public education in WA) it and its affiliates collect from WA educators to fund the Referendum Campaign. According to reports filed with the Public Disclosure Commission, WEA has provided 96% of the campaign's funding so far. The balance of the campaign was funded by other unions, the Green Party, and five real live human beings who contributed a collective total of $192.59.
The immediate consequences of WEA's Referendum Campaign are as follows:
1. LESS MONEY FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN WA. Washington state has lost millions of dollars in federal charter school funding that would have been available to help "charter starters" create up to five new charter public schools statewide this fall (with the majority of the charters reserved for schools serving "educationally disadvantaged students") while also helping persistently low-performing, traditional public schools that convert to charter public schools as part of a turnaround plan. These federal dollars would have translated into $50,000/school planning grants for groups considering the charter school option, and $400,000/school start-up/implementation grants for each school that actually received a charter and opened its doors to interested families.
2. MORE MONEY FOR POLITICS IN WA. Instead of millions of federal dollars being spent on creating new public school choices for educationally disadvantaged children and their families, millions of dollars in mandatory union dues will be spent on television and radio ads talking about how charter schools will lead to "end of public education as we know it." (FYI, the anti-charter Political Action Committee is named the "Protect Our Public Schools Coalition;" of the nine members, five are unions; the web site is www.ProtectOurPublicSchools.org)
3. CHOICES DELAYED. WA's first charter public schools won't be able to open until March at the earliest. As a practical matter, few if any charter public schools will open in WA before August, 2005.
FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION.
As one charter starter wrote recently, "Damn the Torpedos, Full Speed Ahead!" MORE THAN HALF of the African-American, Latino/a and Native American students in our state do NOT graduate from high school. The Achievement Gap between Whites/Asians and other students is large and enduring. The current public education system works well for many students, but tens of thousands of students "fall through the cracks" every year, dropping out or graduating without the basic skills needed to earn a living wage.
The WEA supports more spending for public education, higher pay for teachers and lower class sizes, while opposing more public school choices and the increased adult accountability that results when parent choices have economic consequences for the adults paid by taxpayers to educate the children served by our public schools.
Since the WEA morphed from a professional association into a labor union in the mid-1960's, inflation-adjusted public education spending in WA has more than doubled, inflation-adjusted teacher pay has increased and student-teacher ratios have decreased. While these changes have helped many students, this strategy alone is unlikely to significantly increase WA's 67% high school graduation rate or close the achievement gap. Tens of thousands of children in WA need the CHOICE of charter public schools. We must give them this choice. FAILURE IS NOT AN OPTION.
Sure, the WEA and its affiliates have $55 Million/year in mandatory union dues that they can and do spend primarily on achieving their political objectives. But overturning the charter school law is just one of its many political goals for 2004. If the past is any guide, the WEA has probably budgeted no more than $3 Million to its anti-charter campaign and would be hard-pressed to spend more than $5 Million.
Moreover, most voters are likely to reject the WEA's anti-charter media campaign if they know the REAL reason the WEA Leadership hates charter schools: namely, that teachers at charter public schools, unlike other public schools, have the right to choose whether to unionize and pay $700+/year in dues to the WEA and its affiliates. The WEA Leadership doesn't care about kids. They don't care that much about teachers. They do, however, care about their $55 Million/year in mandatory union dues. For them, charter schools are about money -- "their" money. The WEA Leadership is a lot like the CEO's of cigarette companies. The WEA Leadership doesn't care whether kids learn any more than cigarette companies CEO's care that smokers die. What both care about is protecting their money, and the power that comes with it.
CHARTER SCHOOL CHAMPIONS
The WEA is powerful, but the pro-charter side has many powerful friends as well. Who are our champions?
1. Families who want more, high-quality public school choices for their children.
2. Talented educators who want more freedom to help children learn.
3. Financially-strapped taxpayers who want to improve public education without raising taxes.
4. Democrats like former President Bill Clinton, U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton, WA Governor Gary Locke, Speaker of the House Frank Chopp, and House Education Committee Chair Dave Quall.
5. Republicans like President Bush, Senate Majority Leader Bill Finkbeiner, House Minority Leader Richard DeBolt, and Senate Education Committee Chair Steve Johnson.
6. Advocates for educationally disadvantaged students and their families such as The Urban League, United Indians of All Tribes, El Centro de la Raza, and SEA MAR Community Health Clinics.
7. Pro-charter charities such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Walton Family Foundation, and the Pices Foundation.
8. Editorial Boards of Washington's Largest Daily Newspapers, including:
Both the Seattle Times and the Seattle P-I published editorials this week criticizing the WEA's selfish R-55 campaign.
9. "Charter Starters" who have filed applications to open charter schools despite R-55.
10. The 3,000 charter schools in the 40 states and DC where charter schools are already authorized, and the organizations and individuals that support them and the 750,000 children they serve. They know that WA has become the main battleground in the movement to bring the CHOICE of charter public schools to all of America's children. Over the last 13 years, the NEA and its state affiliates like WEA have fought the charter school movement as it has grown from 1 state (Minnesota) to 40 states and D.C. If the WEA succeeds in blocking charter schools in WA, the NEA will likely rollout anti-charter ballot initiatives in other states. Self-preservation will motivate other charter schools and pro-charter organizations and individuals to help save WA's charter school law.
COURAGEOUS CHARTER STARTERS
We need to follow the example of courageous charter starters like EATONVILLE MONTESSORI'S Shelley Flippen, MOUNT VERNON CHARTER SCHOOL'S Melissa & Steinar Kristoffersen, PACKWOOD CHARTER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL'S Rennee Minsch and Elizabeth Squires, ZION PREP ACADEMY'S Doug Wheeler, and EVERGREEN VIEW CHARTER HIGH SCHOOL'S Brock D'Avignon. These charter starters have or will soon file charter school applications despite R-55's technical suspension of the law pending the statewide vote in November. Excerpts from articles about these WA charter starters are below.
SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
if, as expected, R-55 qualifies for the November ballot, the charter school law passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor in March will be suspended until Washington’s voters have the opportunity to render their verdict on November 2 (Presidential Election Day).
If the People vote YES on R-55, the charter school law will take effect when the election results are certified and WA's first charter schools could open as early as March 2005.
If the People vote NO on R-55, the charter law will terminate, and there will be no CHOICE of charter public schools in WA for years to come, possibly decades.
The WEA thinks they can defeat charter schools on the statewide ballot because they did so in 1996 and 2000. However, what the WEA ignores is that the support for charter schools has been growing over the last eight years.
In 1996, a strong charter school proposal only earned 36% of the vote statewide, and did not win a majority in any county.
In 2000, however, a moderate charter school proposal earned over 48% of the vote statewide, and won majority support in several counties, including Snohomish County (where Everett is located), Pierce County (where Tacoma is located) and Kitsap County (where Bremerton is located). Although charter schools lost in King County (where Seattle is located), the vote was very close: 49-51.
The support for charter schools increased by 12 points (from 36% to 48%) in the four years between 1996 and 2000. If we can increase the support for charter schools by another 12 points between 2000 and 2004, R-55 will pass easily in November with 60% of the vote.
But we don't need to increase the support for charter schools by 12 points, we only need to increase it by 2 points. That's just 2 voters out of every 100.
2% more is all we need! The voters we need to reach are your friends, family and coworkers.
So don't be shy! Tell everyone you know the following three things about charter schools:
-- Charter public schools are tuition-free public schools.
Here are the details:
1. Charter public schools are tuition-free public schools. They're just a new kind of public school with more choice for parents, more freedom for educators, and more accountability for delivering results. Unlike conventional public schools, charter public schools that don't improve student achievement in objective ways (higher test scores, higher graduation rates, etc.) are shut down, and all the adults who work there lose their jobs.
2. Charter public schools are good for kids, parents and teachers (but not unions) because they create more high-quality public school choices. One size doesn't fit all. The more public school choices families have, the more likely each child will get a good fit.
3. The teachers' union bosses hate charter public schools because charter school teachers don’t need unions. The union is afraid that charter schools will eventually reduce the $55 MILLION/YEAR in mandatory union dues that the union collects from WA educators (skimming 1% of all taxpayer dollars spent on public education!).
In WA, teachers at conventional public schools do not have a choice when it comes to paying union dues to the WEA and its local, regional and national affiliates. Every teacher must pay an average of more than $700 in union dues as a condition of employment. However, because teachers at charter public schools get more freedom to be creative in exchange for promising to deliver better student achievement and putting their jobs on the line, charter school teachers do not have to pay union dues and rarely do.
Accordingly, for the union bosses, the issue is not what's best for kids, or even what's best for teachers; the only thing that matters to them is protecting their $55 MILLION/YEAR in union dues. So whenever the WEA says something terrible about charter schools, remember this: the WEA has the same incentive to lie about charter schools that cigarette companies have to lie about the dangers of smoking.
THANK YOU for everything you're doing to bring the CHOICE of charter public schools to the children, families and educators of WA.
The children are counting on us. We can't give up. We won't give up. We'll do whatever it takes. So let's get to work!
Charter-school network seeks a foothold in Washington
KIPP plans to submit an application in the next few weeks to open one of Washington state's first charter schools.
Levin, a co-founder of KIPP, started this school in 1995 in a tough South Bronx neighborhood with a reputation for poverty, drugs and crime. For the past six years, KIPP was the highest-scoring middle school in the entire Bronx in reading and math, and last year among the top 10 percent in New York City. In contrast, the middle school that operates in the same building as KIPP has test scores that rank among the area's lowest.
KIPP has talked with the Federal Way School District, and is looking at other districts, too, including Seattle, although the school board there has expressed strong opposition to charter schools.
Charter school foes file petitions to get issue on fall ballot
The Legislature passed a bill authorizing up to 45 new charter schools over the next six years, with non-profit organizations applying for the charters.
The law also would allow for the conversion of an unlimited number of existing, academically failing public schools to charter schools under official supervision.
Only five new charter schools are authorized in the first year of the law, and the first five applicants to win approval would exhaust that allocation.
The referendum drive leaves several hopeful, early-bird charter-school operators in limbo, among them:
* Doug Wheeler, director of Zion Preparatory Academy, a private K-8 school in Seattle with a 98 percent African American enrollment. Wheeler would like to expand to grades 9-12 with a separate charter school, possibly to be called Harvard Academy. He would face a struggle with the Seattle School Board, which is on record as opposed to charter schools, and he might have to appeal a board rejection of his application to state officials.
* Melissa and Steinar Kristofferson, who run a homeschool-support program in Mount Vernon. They would like to open a charter school offering a traditional education with personalized instruction to students in grades K-3 initially, ultimately expanding to K-12.
* Rennee Minsch, leading an effort by parents to reconstitute Packwood Elementary School in Lewis County as a charter school to save it from a scheduled shutdown by the White Pass School District.
* Charles and Shelley Flippen, who operate a Montessori preschool in Enumclaw. They would like to open a Montessori charter school for grades K-3.
The suspension of the law also stalls the state's application for a three-year, $15 million federal grant to help get the schools started.
California charter school plans to file in Federal Way
The operators of a charter school in California plan to file an application next week to open a school in Federal Way under Washington's suspended charter school law. Informational packets have also been mailed to the Highline, Kent and Renton school districts.
Meanwhile, Shelley Flippen filed an application with the Eatonville School District to expand her Montessori preschool to grades K-3 as a charter school.
The Desert Sands charter school opened in Los Angeles County in 2001 with financial backing from two area businessmen. It targets students from ninth grade to age 21 who have dropped out and seeks to get them back on track to a diploma. The school's 1,100 students make appointments to meet with teachers one-on-one, and they independently study one subject at a time until they complete the required curriculum.
Student performance as measured on standardized tests has improved about 5 percent a year since the school opened, D'Avignon said.
"We're open to any suggestions for kids who are already out of school, or considering dropping out, to keep them in” said Federal Way School Board President Ed Bailey.
Mount Vernon gets first charter school request
The Mount Vernon School District has its first charter school request.
A group calling itself the Mount Vernon Charter School Corporation has proposed running a school for 80 to 100 students in kindergarten through third-grade.
Melissa and Steinar Kristoffersen, who run a home school support organization in Mount Vernon, have teamed up with Joe Fuiten, who runs a number of private Christian schools in King, Snohomish and Whatcom counties, to apply for the charter school sponsorship.
Mount Vernon School Board members discussed the application Wednesday night.
The Legislature passed a charter school law during the last session that allows for the creation of five schools in the entire state next year, and a total of up to 45 charter schools over six years.
But the new law is likely to be referred to voters in November, as a result of a petition drive backed by the state teachers union, which opposes charter schools. Washington voters have twice rejected charter school initiatives.
If the matter is placed on the ballot, the new charter school law would be suspended until after the general election, said Mount Vernon School District Superintendent Mack Armstrong. Charter schools are publicly financed. They must have a contract with a local school board, but operate independently.
What are charter schools?
Charter schools are public schools, freed from some state regulations so they can innovate. By law, their focus is for disadvantaged students. Charter schools still have to comply with health, safety and civil rights regulations, and students are still required to take state assessment tests. Students apply to the school on a voluntary basis. The school is required to enroll all students until capacity is met. The charter school receives state money dependent on the number of students it attracts. Charter schools must be included in any local school levies held after the schools' creation.
Gale Fiege can be reached at 360-416-2148 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
Charter schools delay is likely
Rogelio Riojas is the executive director of Sea Mar Community Health Center, a nonprofit agency that provides health services to low-income Latinos around King County. Riojas is interested in starting a charter school in the Highline School District in south King County for a small group of children who are primarily Spanish-speaking.
Sea Mar runs a state program for preschoolers, but Riojas finds that once those children enter kindergarten, it's not long before they are having trouble with their school work, largely due to language barriers.
"We believe they fall behind from day one and never catch up,'' Riojas said.
He hopes to create a charter elementary school that will use both Spanish and English to better prepare students for junior high and high school, thus giving them a better chance of getting a high school diploma.
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