Editorial

EDITORIAL:Bellingham Herald, October 16, 2004
http://news.bellinghamherald.com/stories/20041016/Opinion/212754.shtml

Charter Schools Deserve Voter OK

Creating charter schools is not going to fix all the problems in the Washington public school system. But, the very limited charter schools bill passed in the state Legislature last year and in front of voters in the form of Referendum 55 this election may help some students succeed in places where the worst schools exist. Voters should approve it.

If passed, Referendum 55 would allow creation of up to 45 charter schools in the state during the next five years. Charter schools allow parents and organizations to start their own schools, run independently but tied to the public school system. The legislation also allows school districts to convert failing public schools into charter schools and for schools that are consistently failing to be forced by the state superintendent of public instruction to be converted to charter schools.

Opponents of charter schools, led by the state teachers' union, say the schools will lack accountability and will take too much money out of the already under-funded education system. But the way the law was written makes charter schools accountable and ties them to local school boards or the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. They will not be free to operate however they please. It is true that some money that is currently going to public schools would move with children to charter schools. But it's not like the money will be taken completely out of education, just into a different kind of school.

Opponents also argue that we can't afford to take any money out of the public system when the Legislature has refused to pay for smaller class sizes and teacher raises as provided by Initiative 728 and Initiative 732 in recent years. We agree that the Legislature has failed in its duty to schools, teachers and voters on this issue. But that doesn't have anything to do with charter schools.

Perhaps the most important argument about charter schools is whether they work or not. Both sides have a myriad of facts and figures to support their contentions on the issue. The "Reject R-55" camp will tell you that a recent study by Duke University showed that students in North Carolina's charter schools would have been better off if they had stayed in their traditional public schools. The "Approve R-55" group will point to the 12 of 13 charter schools in the Chicago area where students are outperforming their traditional public school counterparts on standardized tests and have higher graduation rates.

The truth is some charter schools have worked and others have not, which explains why legislators drafted a plan as moderate and limited as the one in Referendum 55. Still, if the creation of a few charter schools in Washington helps some children get a better education, then it's a plan worth trying.

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