Frequently Asked Questions

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1. What are charter public schools?

Charter public schools are alternative public schools created by educators, parents, or community leaders to provide more high-quality public-school choices, with less bureaucracy and more accountability. In other states, these schools are sometimes referred to as charter schools or community schools or public school academies.

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2.What is House Bill 2295?

Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 2295 ("House Bill 2295") gives Washington voters the opportunity to join 40 other states and the District of Columbia in authorizing the creation of charter public schools.

House Bill 2295 authorizes school districts and the state Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) to "sponsor" charter public schools. Charter public schools would be run by qualified non-profit charitable organizations, accountable to the local school district or SPI for financial and academic performance, but operated independently of the district-run public schools.

Charter public schools would be open to all students and staffed by certificated teachers, who could choose to unionize, but would not be required to do so. They would be exempt from most state school regulations, except in regard to testing, health, safety, and civil rights.

Download a copy of House Bill 2295 as passed by the WA Legislature on March 10, 2004 and signed by Governor Locke on March 18, 2004.

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3. Are charter public schools similar to conventional public schools?

Yes. Charter public schools are similar to conventional public schools in many ways.

OPEN TO ALL. Like all public schools, charter public schools cannot discriminate in their admissions or operations based on race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, gender, income level, disabling condition, proficiency in the English language, or athletic ability.

ADMISSIONS LOTTERY. Like most public schools, charter public schools must enroll all students who submit a timely application. If capacity is insufficient to enroll all applicants, a lottery must be used to determine which students are offered admission.

TUITION-FREE. Like all public schools, charter public schools must not charge tuition.

CERTIFICATED TEACHERS. Like all public schools, charter public schools must hire certificated teachers.

STANDARDIZED TESTS. Like all public schools, charter public schools must administer the standardized tests required by the legislature and report the results to parents and the public.

NON-SECTARIAN. Like all public schools, charter public schools cannot be religious schools.

NON-PROFIT BOARDS. Like all public schools, charter public schools must be managed by a non-profit board of directors and must satisfy all requirements established by the federal government for public charities.

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4. Are charter public schools different from conventional public schools?

BUILT WITH SWEAT EQUITY. Charter public schools are "bottom-up" schools created by parents, educators, and community leaders. They must first prepare a detailed plan, get the plan approved by a sponsor (this approved plan is the school's charter), and then use their "sweat equity" to turn the plan into a new public school.

Once the school is created, all parents are free to choose it if they prefer it over their other public school choices.

LESS POLITICAL. Charter public schools are operated independently from local school districts. Boards are selected by the parents, educators, and community leaders who create them, rather than being selected through a political process.

However, charter public schools are directly accountable for their academic and financial performance to either the local school board or the SPI through the specific contractual provisions of their charters.

LESS RED TAPE. Charter public schools are deregulated and given much more autonomy than conventional public schools, and in return, they are held to a much higher level of accountability. They are responsive to accountability requirements from government agencies because they will be closed down if they aren't. They are accountable to parents because they will go out of business if they aren't.

NO ADMISSIONS TESTS. Charter public schools are never use admission tests to determine which children will be offered admission.

SMALL SCHOOLS. Charter public schools are usually smaller than conventional public schools, and rarely serve more than a few hundred students and their families. This creates a strong sense of community and encourages parental involvement.

CENTRAL THEME. Charter public schools are typically organized around a central theme, such as the performing arts, science, technology, Montessori, or back-to-basics.

FOCUS ON AT-RISK KIDS. Charter public schools are often focused on serving student populations that are considered at risk, including drop-outs, students from low-income families, students with disabilities, and students who do not speak English as their primary language.

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5. Why are charter public schools so popular?

Charter public schools are authorized in 40 states, including every state west of the Rocky Mountains- except Washington. Fueled by strong parental demand for more public school choices, the charter school movement has grown from one charter public school in Minnesota in 1992 to almost 3,000 schools serving about 750,000 students across America.

President George W. Bush, US Senator John Kerry, US Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, and former Vice President Al Gore support charter public schools and advocate policies that should double or triple the number of charter public schools over the next few years. In the 2000 Presidential Election, Senators John McCain and Bill Bradley also supported charter public schools.

Many of Washington's best known political leaders support charter public schools, including Governor Gary Locke, John Carlson, Clyde Ballard, and Frank Chopp. Gigi Talcott and Dave Quall, the Republican and Democratic leaders of the House Education Committee, both support charter public schools, as does the Republican chair of the Senate Education Committee, Senator Steve Johnson.

The Seattle Times endorsed charter public schools as a goal for the 2003 Legislature in a January 16, 2003 editorial. Moreover, the following newspapers endorsed the statewide ballot initiative (Initiative 729) that carried several Puget Sound counties but lost narrowly, 52-48, in the November 2000 Election:

  • The Seattle Times
  • The Seattle Post-Intelligencer
  • The Tacoma News Tribune
  • The Spokane Spokesman-Review
  • The Vancouver Columbian
  • The Walla Walla Union-Bulletin
  • The Wenatchee World
  • The South (King) County Journal
  • The Bremerton Sun
  • The Bellingham Herald
  • The Eastside Journal
  • The Everett Herald
  • The Olympia Olympian
  • The South Whidbey Record
  • The Centralia Chronicle
  • The Aberdeen Daily World
  • The Seattle Weekly

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6. Why do we need charter public schools?

The purpose of charter public schools is to provide more high-quality public-school choices for children and their families. Charter public school supporters reject the idea that "one size fits all" and believe that the best way to make sure every child gets a good school fit is to offer more high-quality public-school choices. Although there are many wonderful public schools in Washington, tens of thousands of children fall through the cracks of the current public school system and fail to graduate from high school. Many others lose interest in learning and fail to reach their full potential.

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7. Why do parents like charter public schools?

Parents like charter public schools because they provide parents with more high-quality public-school choices for their children, and they give parents the opportunity to be more involved with their children's education.

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8. Why do teachers like charter public schools?

Teachers like charter public schools because they offer professional freedom and autonomy. Charter public schools offer talented, energetic teachers the opportunity to create their ideal public school, to work with other teachers who share their vision, and to work with parents who believe that the school offers a good fit for their children.

Because everyone at a charter public school chooses to be there, charter public schools tend to have more parental involvement and fewer discipline problems, even when serving at-risk children.

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9. Why do taxpayers like charter public schools?

Charter public schools are created with "sweat equity," not local property taxes. Charter public schools are generally more efficient because they are subject to less red tape than traditional public schools and because they are allowed to contract out support services such as accounting, payroll, food service, and maintenance.

Charter public schools tend to "bargain shop" because every dollar they save is another dollar that can be reinvested in improved curriculum, smaller class sizes, and better teachers.

Charter public schools are funded solely with state funds allocated to public schools on a per-student basis. These funds are already earmarked to follow children when they transfer from one school to another or use the Running Start program to pay for their high school student's tuition at a community college.

Charter public schools do not receive any local levy or bond funds unless the local school board specifically agrees to sponsor the school and local voters give their approval.

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10. Are charter public schools more accountable?

Yes. Except for matters involving health, safety, civil rights, academic testing, and open public meetings, charter public schools do not have to comply with the regulations that govern other public schools. However, because charter public schools are strictly accountable for their academic and financial performance, they are, in fact, more accountable than conventional public schools.

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11. Are charter public schools held accountable to parents?

Yes. Charter public schools are, by definition, schools of choice. No one is ever forced to attend, and parents are free to withdraw their children at any time.

Charter public schools are funded on a per-pupil basis, therefore if no one wants to attend the school, the school receives no state funding.

Similarly, if the parents at the school become unhappy and withdraw their children, the school loses all of its funding and all of the adults who work there lose their jobs. That's real accountability.

As a result, charter public schools are "customer-oriented" and very hard to serve children and families in their communities.

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12. Are charter public schools held accountable to authorizers?

Charter public schools are more accountable than conventional public schools for delivering results, measured in terms of levels of academic and financial performance.

Every charter public school must have a sponsor (sometimes called an authorizer). The sponsor-either the local school board or the state Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI)-is the government agency that issues the charter or license required to create a charter public school. School boards are not required to grant charters, but if they do, they must closely monitor the academic and financial performance of each charter public school they create.

Every charter school must provide detailed reports to its sponsor at least once each year, and any school that does not perform well loses its charter. Schools that lose their charters are no longer eligible for government funding, and without government funding, the adults who work at the school lose their job.

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13. Where can I find more information?

Links to many helpful sites may be found on the "Related Ediucation Links" page.

Also, Stanford Research Institute International (S.R.I. International), under contract from the U.S. Department of Education, published a major review of America's charter public schools in November 2002.

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14. No charter schools in WA? What can I do?

Unfortunately for you and many others, WA is one of 10 states that don't yet authorize charter schools. In 2004, the Legislature passed a law, but charter opponents (unions and school boards) filed enough referendum petitions to suspend the law and then spent millions of dollars on TV ads that convinced the majority of voters that charter schools were bad. This defeat, along with the election of an anti-charter governor, were very negative to the charter movement in WA. It will probably be many years before Legislators will be able work up the courage to try again to pass a new law authorizing charter schools. While your choices are more limited than they should be, you still have some options. [Read more...]

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