WA Charters Newsletter

Time To Choose: Referendum 55 on November Ballot!

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Dear Friends,

It's time to choose.

In less than two months, during the Presidential Election on November 2, the voters of Washington State will decide whether they want to join the 40 states that have already authorized the CHOICE of charter public schools.

The choice will be presented in the form of Referendum 55.
If voters APPROVE R-55, charter public schools will come to WA.
If voters REJECT R-55, WA will remain one of only 10 states nationwide where the choice of charter public schools is not available.

ACTION REQUESTED-1: If you know which side you're on, take action! Get involved! The web sites for the two campaigns are below.

APPROVE R-55: Improve Our Public Schools: www.ApproveR55.org
REJECT R-55: Protect Our Public Schools: www.ProtectOurPublicSchools.org

ACTION REQUESTED-2: If you are still undecided, get informed! There's more information below and elsewhere on this web site, and on the World Wide Web.


BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

WHAT ARE CHARTER PUBLIC SCHOOLS?

Charter Public Schools are:

• Mission-driven, self-governing public schools.
• Open to all children without discrimination and without cost.
• Distinguished by high levels of autonomy and accountability.
• Successfully educating more than 750,000 children in over 3,000 schools across America in the 40 states where they are already authorized.
• Supported by both President Bush and Senator Kerry, the National Governors’ Association and the national party platforms of both the Democratic and Republican parties.

WHY DO WE NEED CHARTER PUBLIC SCHOOLS IN WASHINGTON?

Although our state has many fine public schools, 30% of our students never graduate from high school. For certain minority students, including Latinos, African American, and Native Americans, the high school dropout rate is 50% or more! Every year, tens of thousands of children fall through the cracks of the regular public education system. They just don't thrive in the regular public schools. We need to do more to help these children and their families. Charter public schools represent an important tool -- already authorized in 40 other states -- that can help educators teach these children more effectively.

HOW DID R-55 GET ON THE BALLOT?

In March 2004, the Washington State Legislature passed a bill (Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 2295) authorizing the creation of charter public schools, with an emphasis on schools serving academically disadvantaged students. The bill was passed by the Republican-controlled state Senate, the Democrat-controlled state House of Representatives, and signed by Governor Locke. However, opponents of the law, led by various labor unions, collected enough signatures to suspend the law until voters either approve it, or reject it, in a statewide vote on November 2.

WHAT HAPPENS IF R-55 IS APPROVED BY VOTERS ON NOVEMBER 2?

If Referendum 55 is approved by the voters, qualified, non-sectarian, non-profit organizations will be authorized to propose the creation of up to 45 new charter public schools statewide as well as the conversion of persistently low performing district-run schools to charter public schools. Today, our state has about 2,000 public schools, of which many are “persistently low performing."

WHY ARE THEY CALLED CHARTER PUBLIC SCHOOLS?

Each charter public school operates according to a “charter” or detailed performance contract between the school’s founders (teachers, parents, and community leaders) and elected government officials (either the local school board or the state’s Superintendent of Public Instruction).

ARE CHARTER SCHOOLS ACCOUNTABLE?

The charter contract is what makes charter public schools so accountable for achieving their mission of improving student achievement, especially for educationally disadvantaged students. All charter public schools have five years to become as good or better than regular public schools at serving similar students. If this overriding goal is not achieved, or if the charter school is mismanaged or violates any of the promises it made in its charter, the charter must be cancelled, the school closed, and all of the adults who work there must look for employment elsewhere. That’s real accountability; accountability with consequences.

WHAT DOES A CHARTER PUBLIC SCHOOL LOOK LIKE?

A proposed charter school design may include just about anything the school’s founders choose, as long as the school fulfills the following basic requirements:

• It must be fiscally sound.
• It must employ fully certificated teachers.
• It must abide by all civil rights, health and safety laws.
• It must enable the students in the school to learn successfully, as determined by their scores on the same standardized tests all public-school children take.

This design flexibility allows charter school founders to tailor their schools to the specific needs of their students and to try new, innovative educational methods.

Examples of charter public schools in other states include:

• Montessori elementary schools, middle schools and high schools.
• “Core Knowledge” schools (“What every __ Grader Needs to Know”).
• Science-focused schools.
• Expeditionary Learning schools (“Outward Bound”).
• High Discipline schools.
• Schools with longer school days and longer school years.
• Performing Arts schools.
• Schools which specialize in serving the individual needs of every child, and especially children with particular special needs such as dyslexia, autism, deafness, or blindness.

WILL CHARTER PUBLIC SCHOOLS RAISE OUR TAXES?

Authorizing charter public schools will not raise taxes. Charter public schools will be funded with the same state funds (about $5,500/year) that currently follow children when they move from one school district to another. Charter public schools will NOT receive any local levy funding (about $1,000 - $2,000/year) or capital funding UNLESS the local school board AND local voters approve.

Unlike regular public schools, however, charter public schools will be eligible to receive federal start-up grants, which generally average about $450,000 per school. Charter public schools will also be eligible to receive funding from non-religious charities. For example, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has invested over $130 million dollars to help create high-quality charter public schools in most of the 40 states where this innovative education reform is already authorized.

As a result, charter public schools should
improve educational opportunities and
increase overall public education spending in our state
without raising our taxes.

TIME TO CHOOSE.

Many people think that offering the CHOICE of charter public schools would be great for many children, their families, and talented educators whose hands are often tied by the bureaucracy of the current system. Others disagree. Voters will decide on November 2. Please research the issue carefully, make your choice, and vote!

Thank you!

Jim
Jim Spady, President & Executive Director
Washington Charter School Resource Center (WCSRC)
4426 - 2nd Avenue NE
Seattle, WA 98105-6191
Jim's office phone: 206/634-0589
Jim's cell phone: 206/949-8484
Jim's e-mail address: JimSpady@WAcharterschools.org
Jim & Fawn's home phone: 206/275-2089

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