With opposition fading, charter schools in Washington continue to grow to meet growing demand

As we greet a new school year and say goodbye to another summer, I can’t help but notice that the rabid fervor over charter schools in Washington State has mostly flamed out.

At this time last year, everyone was still up in arms. The Washington Education Association had just led the filing of another lawsuit against the charter sector in an effort to maintain its monopoly on free public education.

Our state attorney general had just entered the fray, and the NAACP had issued its first suggestion of a nationwide moratorium on charter schools.

By February of this year, however, a judge had ruled in favor of charter schools, and the several months since have seen them slip — at last — out of the limelight for a moment. 

Charter schools remain a misunderstood, divisive topic in our state, but two years after the first eight charter schools opened their doors to students in Washington, the charter movement is doing just what it was meant to do: creating new, equity-minded options without hurting the existing system.

Two brand new schools, which will each eventually serve grades 6-12, also join the sector this year: Rainier Valley Leadership Academy, led by principal Walter Chen as part of the Green Dot Public Schools network, and Summit Atlas, part of the Summit Public Schools network, both opened in Seattle on Tuesday.

The 10 charter schools in King County, Tacoma, and Spokane will serve more than 2,500 students — more than double the number of students enrolled two years ago, and up from 1,600 in January. Hundreds more students remain on waitlists, with especially high demand in the Spokane area.

“We are pleased to see growth across our sector, and we are particularly pleased to see an increase in the number of systemically underserved students who are accessing these high-quality public school options,” WA Charters CEO Patrick D’Amelio said. “We look forward to supporting the sector through another successful school year, and planning for additional growth in future years to meet the increasing demand from Washington families for these innovative, personalized options.”

The sector is continuing its measured growth as well, with two more new schools set to open next fall: Willow Public School in Walla Walla, and an Impact Public School in Tukwila.

Charter schools in Washington are addressing opportunity and achievement gaps more quickly and effectively than the traditional public school system. They are extending school choice beyond the realm of the privileged and giving more free, public options to more families. From where I sit, maybe we just need more of them.