Editorials

EDITORIAL: The (Vancouver, WA) Columbian, September 20, 2004
http://www.columbian.com/09202004/clark_co/191175.html

In Our View: 'Yes' for Ref. 55

The Washington Education Association is again leading a misguided fight against the creation of a small number of public charter schools in our state.

Meanwhile, more than 40 other states allow charter schools and are enjoying the innovations these schools can provide as well as the federal funding that is available to states that offer citizens more choices.

Not all charter schools are a hit, but neither are all traditional schools. The goal of government should be to create varied learning opportunities for diverse students and set high academic standards in return for the taxpayers' investment.

Instead of seeing charter schools as the opportunity that they are for students, families and teachers, the WEA is seeking to repeal legislation approved by Gov. Gary Locke last spring. The law is about the mildest charter school legislation in the nation, probably because of its vast bipartisan support. It fits Washington just right.

Once this repeal effort is out of the way, the law would allow creation of just five charter schools in its first year, with up to as many as 40 more during the next five years. Charter schools cannot be sectarian in nature and they have nothing to do with vouchers, which are an unacceptable use of tax dollars.

Students of public charter schools would still have to meet state testing standards. And the schools have to be open to all children, voluntarily, without discrimination and without cost.

In most states where charter schools exist, they have waiting lists of students who are wanting to get in.

So what's the problem again?

The union's problem with these schools is that while they require employment of certified teachers, those educators don't have to be union members or pay union dues, unlike all other public school teachers in our state.

Charter schools in Washington would be created and run by interested nonprofit entities (at least two with proven track records have already shown interest). And yet these schools would still be accountable to elected officials (either a local school board or the state schools superintendent) as they should be.

If one of these startup schools is unable to meet agreed-upon achievement goals in just five years, or if the school is mismanaged or found undesirable by families, it closes.

Bill Gates sees so much potential for success, however, that he has made a $300,000 personal contribution to the Ref. 55 "yes" campaign. Paul Allen, another charter school booster, has financed efforts in the past.

The most misleading argument about these charter schools is that they will "drain" the public school system of needed dollars. That's false. In Washington, dollars follow students, not schools. With so few charter schools even possible able to serve only a limited number of students it is surprising the argument even survives.

Further, why would Gates, one of the most generous contributors to public schools (his dollars have even reached Clark County) want to cripple the public education system that he is trying to help sustain with a "yes" vote, if charters did present a threat?

There are more than 2,212 public schools in our state in nearly 300 school districts. Surely 45 additional schools can be charters without sinking the system or turning our backs on the traditional education model. Heck, they might even teach us something new.

Maybe that's the real problem opponents have with this law.

Vote "yes" on Ref. 55 to allow already approved charter school legislation to go into effect.

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