Spokane lawmakers get creative to help charter schools — but is it enough?

Charter schools in Washington have been looking for a clear path forward ever since a surprise ruling by the State Supreme Court declared them unconstitutional last September. Two state senators from Spokane filed a bill this week in the hopes of keeping charter schools alive.

From Education Week:

Democratic Sen. Andy Billig and Republican Sen. Michael Baumgartner, both from Spokane, filed Senate Bill 6163 to make charter schools accountable to locally elected school boards. In striking down the state's voter-approved charter school law, the high court previously took issue that charter schools were supported with state dollars and governed by a board not elected by residents. The court said in November it wouldn't reconsider its decision.

If the bill is passed, a potential charter school would negotiate freedom from district policies like the length of a school day, policies regarding staff and curriculum.

A charter school would meet with its district regularly and be compliant with many state laws, regulations and standards.

"This bill creates a framework for school districts to create a charter school and it will be very much up to the district and the charter school to fill in the details of that framework," Billig said Monday. He added the nine operating charter schools in the state would have an expedited process to apply to their school districts.

Now, local school boards having the power to authorize charters is nothing new. That authority was granted as part of the same law the Supreme Court ruled against. The new bill looks to neutralize one of the court's key strikes against charter schools—lack of oversight by an elected board—by handing more control of the schools' operations to district school boards. 

Part of this expanded control would allow school boards to shut down a charter school for any reason, requiring only that they give the school one year's notice. It also remains unlikely that these changes would be enough to keep charters open in Seattle and Tacoma, where a majority of school board members are vocal opponents of charter schools.

Act Now for Washington Students, a parent- and student-led coalition working to ensure that parent, student and voter voices are elevated in the fight to keep public schools open and serving kids, said in a statement yesterday that "several other legislative proposals" are expected to be brought forward this session.

"While this first proposal is a good starting point and should be lauded for its responsiveness to the urgency of the situation Washington families face, ultimately the goal is to enact legislation that reflects the spirit of the public charter school law passed by Washington voters—which includes a statewide public charter school authorizer. We look forward to working with legislators to come together on a solution that maintains the ability of all parents—not just those in some districts—to choose the public school that best fits the needs of their children.”