Lots to Do Before Washington Charters Open Their Doors

Those who thought that getting a charter proposal past the Washington State voters was going to be the easy part are in for a surprise according to The Associated Press. Now that the state has been granted voter permission to bring charters to Washington districts, the work to actually get the schools ready to take students is only just beginning.

Few think that all that ground can be covered in time for the first Washington charters to open their doors next fall. The state board of education is working under an early March deadline to get the regulations that will govern the new independently-run, publicly funded schools, and the early noise from board members already has many doubting that the deadline could be met.

That is certainly the impression given by the board's spokesman Aaron Wyatt, who said that it's unlikely that the board will be ready to release the final draft of the rules by March 6th. Yet this isn't even the biggest hurdle standing in the way of new charter school openings.

The proposition that ushered in the school choice movement also provided for the creation of the Washington Charter School Commission, and independent state agency that will consider applications to open charters as well as oversee their operation. Each of the houses representing the state's Legislative branch, as well as the Governor, will get to appoint three of the commission's nine members. The members need to be appointed and seated before the first charter applications can even be considered.

Board member Richard Westerberg of Preston responded, "All that being said, and I agree with all of that, the vote was not equivocal. It was a pretty strong vote from the populace, and it was very specific the way it was listed on the ballot. … I think … we need to reaffirm what the voters told us."

The board's Panhandle member, Don Soltman of Twin Lakes, agreed. He chaired the board's subcommittee that set the two-online-courses rule, after the "Students Come First" law ordered the board to pick how many online courses should be required for graduation from high school.

Chris Korsmo, the executive director of the League of Education Voters — and someone who worked hard on the Yes on 1240 Campaign — scoffs at the idea that there is enough time for everything to settle down and that first charters could begin operating as early as Fall of 2013. She said that people who think that this timetable is realistic clearly "missed the point" of the initiative, which is to set up a system that makes sure that only the best charter schools actually get approved to operate in the state.

One significant hurdle is Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, who says he may sue to stop the initiative from establishing a parallel department of education. Initiative 1240 was unconstitutional because it would set up a separate school system with a board that isn't elected by the people, he said.

"It is clearly circumventing the constitution," he said, because the state constitution established an elected superintendent of public instruction to oversee all public schools.

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