Saturday, September 5, 2015

WA: I Have the Charter Solution

The Washington State supreme court has spoken, and charter supporters are freaking out.

There's a #saveWAcharterschools tag on twitter (a little lonely, but it's there), along with several feisty charteristas who are finding ways to express their outrage.

And on Huffington Post, the heads both the national and state charter associations (each, of course, is not called "president" or "chairman," but "CEO") wrote an expression of something between panic, outrage and feistiness about the closing of charter schools. Thomas Franta and Nina Rees are concerned for the 1,200 Washington students who are suddenly school-less for next week, and I have to agree that the court's decision to sit on this ruling until the last days of summer vacation was just plain mean. At the same time, I hope that Rees, as CEO of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, displays some of this same outrage the next time some charter school decides to cut its losses and close up shop in the middle of a school year.

Charteristas are calling for some way to Save Charter Schools. Washington state legislator Drew Stokesbary on twitter proposes three possible solutions:

So, find ways to rewrite the law so that charter money can stay in its own little lock box in its own big silo. This seems a bit overthought and overwrought. The court's decision, as I understand it, is based on the idea that charter schools cannot receive "common school" public funds because they are not overseen by an elected school board. And if that's the case, charters can fix this very easily. Are you paying attention, charter operators? I have your solution right here.

Just submit to being overseen by an elected school board.

Act like the public schools you claim to be. Make your finances and operation completely transparent to the public.

And allow yourselves to be overseen by an elected school board instead of a collection of individuals who are not answerable to the voters or the taxpayers.

I mean-- what's more important to you? Providing a strong educational alternative for those 1,200 students, or holding on your ability to do whatever you want without having to answer to the public? Is it so important to you that you not be accountable to the public that you would rather engage in timeconsuming rewrites of state law, or even just close your doors, rather than let yourself submit to transparent and open oversight by a group of citizens elected by the very taxpayers whose money you use to run your school?

Many eyes are on Washington right now. One of the things we'll be watching to see is what charter operators do next, because their next move will be one more sign of what they really care about.


  1. Generally, there is no such thing as a "public" charter school. Both existing case law and public policy have long established the logic for the Washington State Supreme Court holding. The California Court of Appeals (2007-01-10) ruled that charter schools are NOT "public agents." The 9th Circuit US Court of Appeals (2010-01-04) ruled that charter schools are NOT "public actors." The National Labor Relations Board joins a host of other government agencies that have unequivocally ruled that that charters are "private entities."

    By definition whether a charter is run by a for-profit firm, or a (501c3) non-profit, then it is not public. The United States Census Bureau frames this issue best: "A few "public charter schools" are run by public universities and municipalities. However, most charter schools are run by private nonprofit organizations and are therefore classified as private." (US Census Bureau. (2011). Public Education Finances: 2009 (GO9-ASPEF). Washington, DC: US Government Printing O ce. Print. vi).

    Because these lucrative charter schools are not public, and are not subject to public oversight, they are able to get away with violating the constitutional rights of their students. The decision in Scott B. v. Board of Trustees of Orange County High School of the Arts saw Rosa K. Hirji, Esq. write: "The structures that allow charter schools to exist are marked by the absence of protections that are traditionally guaranteed by public education, protections that only become apparent and necessary when families and students begin to face a denial of what they were initially promised to be their right." It's time that we shut down the profitable charter school industry and divert our attentions to improving our public schools.

  2. Good for WA and now WTF is wrong with CA? Just close the damn Charter schools and be done with it.

  3. Transparency and accountability are only for "the other guy" in the topsy-turvy world of Ed Deform. Don't hold your breath waiting for any charter school organization to accede to such "absurd" rules, particularly not ones like Akron's White Hat Management or Eva Moskowitz's Success Academies, to name but two.

  4. Thank you, Mr. Greene. Well said, as always.

  5. Honest question time: Do you see *any* value in a school's ability to operate under different rules and standards than the rest of the district? Is this value partially or wholly undercut by being brought under the umbrella of the district? I'm asking honestly, I don't know the answer.

    I can tell you that my child is experiencing something remarkable at one of the charter schools in Washington. She is happier and more motivated than I have ever seen her. If you're going to tell me that a public school can offer the same experience, the obvious question is why aren't they? And how are the charters able to provide this experience with, as I understand it, less funding per student?

    I do understand that, across the nation, many charters perform poorly. I also know that some perform far, far better than their public school peers. This is particularly true of the Bay area organization that is establishing schools in Washington. Or perhaps I have been misled.

    If I'm ignorant of some important facts, please enlighten me.

    1. The whole idea of a charter school rests on the idea of operating under different rules. But I don't see why that has to mean the charter has zero accountability. In fact, as charters were originally envisioned, they were to have GREATER accountability, in exchange for more autonomy.

    2. Great, so how can we alter the law in Washington to achieve the intent of allowing flexibility in the schools but retaining accountability? I cannot believe that it's impossible. I'm coming at this as a dad that feels totally blindsided. Should the school have told us that their funding was in jeopardy? Maybe, but I truly believe they were surprised by this ruling. Should we have been aware of the pending court case? Maybe. I'm not sure how, in the absence of any positive information, I could have asked "gee before I enroll my daughter I'd better check to make sure there are aren't any pending lawsuits."

      What I can say is, her school is wonderful. The model is extraordinarily different from the public neighborhood school, as is the environment, as is her mood and general demeanor. It's night and day. I will fight for my daughter and other students to have access to that education, to the good elements of that education, and I don't really care whether they are under the district board or not as long as it doesn't eliminate the essential good.