The fourth time proved the charm for the charter school referendum in Washington, and now the first such privately operated but publicly funded academy could open its doors in Spokane as early as next year. Spokane Public School officials rushed to submit in application to become charter school authorizers shortly after the voters approved charters in the state last fall.
Now, according to Jody Lawrence-Turner of The Spokesman-Review, the district has received a go-ahead from the state Board of Education and will be able to begin processing applications immediately.
That is, unless the legal challenge filed by Washington's teachers union – currently wending itself through the courts – succeeds and puts the entire charter school movement in the state on ice.
Spokane Public Schools Superintendent Shelley Redinger said she was excited to hear the news.
"I think we'll get a lot of interest," Redinger said. "It'll be a good thing."
Only school districts approved by the Washington Board of Education and the state-appointed Washington Charter Commission can authorize the independent public schools.
Spokane is the only district so far to seek the opportunity to have a charter school.
"It's a great way to start some new partnerships for Spokane students," Redinger said.
Redinger explained that the district wanted a major role in all decisions about charter schools that would operate within its borders. By applying to be an authorizer, district officials could have a voice in decisions like staffing, curriculum and academic materials, instead of leaving such decisions to the state or to the charter itself. Steven Gering, Spoke Public Schools' chief academic officer pointed out that like many such decisions, this was also about money. Specifically, if the district could offer charters services like transportation, they could receive a portion of their funding.
Charter schools have "more flexibility and more accountability," Gering said. If they don't meet their contractual agreements, the district doesn't have to renew their contract after five years and the school goes away.
Up to 40 charter schools – eight per year – can be approved over the next five years.
It is possible Spokane Public Schools could approve more than one application, Redinger said.
"Spokane Public Schools is helping build a great, high-performing public charter school sector to improve learning for all students," said Chris Korsmo, board chair of the Washington State Charter Schools Association – a new nonprofit to support the creation of high-quality public charter schools.