Washington state's new charter law has quickly become a national darling. This morning, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a leading non-profit advocating and monitoring such schools, is releasing the latest of its annual rankings of all charter laws nationwide. Washington's--despite generating significant controversy and winning a narrow approval by voters-- ranks third of 43.
"That's awesome," enthuses Anne Martens, a spokesperson for the local chapter of Stand for Children, one of the leading groups behind charter school Initiative 1240. She attributes the high ranking to the research the initiative's authors did on the laws of other states and how well they were working. Key to Washington's law, she says, is its call for a statewide charter-school commission, which along with local school boards, will have the power to authorize and monitor new schools.
She says the establishment of a commission will ensure that if schools are not getting good results, "there is an avenue to shut them down."
Among those less than thrilled with the law, however, is state Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, and the commission is one reason why. In a letter sent to legislators earlier this month, Dorn pointed out that commission members are to be appointed rather than elected. (The governor and the heads of both chambers of the legislature will pick the commission's nine members.) Therefore, he writes, "they are not accountable to the people."
Dorn, of course, is elected. And as he explained to the SW back in November, he believes that the state constitution demands that if we're going to have charter schools, he should be put in charge of them. He threatened a suit immediately after the election, but so far he's concentrating on trying to amend the law through the legislature, according to Dorn spokesperson Nathan Olson.
Meanwhile, the state Board of Education is moving ahead by recently issuing a draft of proposed rules for local districts wanting become charter school "authorizers." The districts must submit an application to the board.
This is all bureaucratic stuff. No matter what fine print the board comes up with, no matter how lofty the Alliance thinks our charter law is, the real test will come when schools are up and running, and we see not only the results but the ramifications on existing public schools, which under I-1240 can be converted into charters. Martens says that aside from a few players that have expressed immediate interest, like the national charter organization Green Dot, not a lot is yet known about who might run the new schools.