Tacoma Public Schools will submit a second letter of intent to state officials, indicating the district’s renewed interest in possibly becoming an authorizer of charter schools. But the soonest a charter school could open in Tacoma with the district’s blessing is still two years away.
Under the law approved by Washington voters last year, the publicly funded, privately run schools can be granted authority to operate either by a local school board or by the statewide charter commission.
But local boards first must apply to the state Board of Education. The Spokane School District recently won such approval, becoming the first local school district in Washington allowed to authorize charters within its boundaries. A charter school could open in Spokane as soon as fall 2014.
Tacoma’s school board had considered applying in the first round, along with Spokane. But after submitting a letter of interest, Tacoma board members opted out in May.
Now, a majority of the five-member board is indicating they may want to opt back in. At a Thursday meeting, Karen Vialle, Catherine Ushka and Kurt Miller approved submitting another letter of intent. Debbie Winskill abstained from the vote. Scott Heinze was absent.
If the board ultimately authorizes a charter school in Tacoma, it would mark a significant departure from a year ago, when board members voted unanimously to oppose Initiative 1240, saying it would “remove or deteriorate local control of public schools” and “draw funding away from an already financially stressed system.”
School boards have until Oct. 1 to submit a letter indicating they want to be considered a charter school authorizer for schools that would open in the fall of 2015. The board has until Dec. 31 to decide if it will then submit a complete application.
Board members last spring cited a short timeline and unanswered questions as reasons for backing away from the first-round charter application.
But Vialle said Thursday that some of those questions have since been answered, including what rules Tacoma would have to live by if it were to become an authorizer.
Winskill said she sat out Thursday’s vote because she wants to see what happens statewide as charter schools evolve.
“I feel the (statewide) charter commission is a better way to go, rather than taking it on in the district,” she said.
Local school districts can approve charter schools within their boundaries, but the new state commission can approve charters anywhere in Washington.
In either case, an authorizer enters into a contract with the charter school. If the school fails to meet expectations or doesn’t live up to contract provisions, the authorizer can revoke the charter and close the school.
Washington’s law grants permission for up to 40 charter schools to open within the next five years. They could be start-ups or existing public schools where either a majority of teachers or a majority of parents asks to convert to charter status.
Several people have already indicated they’re interested in opening a charter in Tacoma. The Washington Charter School Association recently announced that one of three women participating in its charter leadership training program is interested in locating a charter in Tacoma. Kristina Bellamy-McClain, one of the leaders in training, is a 13-year public school educator who was most recently principal at Emerson Elementary School in Seattle.
Meanwhile, the state teachers union, the Washington Education Association, and several other groups filed a lawsuit over the summer asking that the charter law be overturned. They say the law violates the state constitution.
Charter school opponents contend the schools will damage the public education system by siphoning funding into a limited number of schools. Proponents says charters will create more flexibility, innovation and parental choice.