Education

Tacoma charter school to close for good at the end of the academic year

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Charter schools are one option in the growing "school choice" movement. Funded by taxpayer money, these schools are growing nationally, though some states have yet to pass related laws.
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Charter schools are one option in the growing "school choice" movement. Funded by taxpayer money, these schools are growing nationally, though some states have yet to pass related laws.

A Tacoma charter school will close its doors at the end of the 2018-19 school year.

Financial struggles forced the closure, the SOAR Academy school board announced Thursday, Jan. 24.

“In collaboration with key partners in the Washington charter public school community, we have explored every possibility to keep our school open, but ultimately have been unable to identify the resources needed to continue delivering our fully inclusive model,” the board said in a statement issued following the decision.

The school will continue to operate as normal through the end of the academic year.

SOAR Academy is one of three charter schools in Tacoma and one of 12 charters in Washington state.

Families were notified immediately, and the school is “diligently supporting them in identifying options for their children next year,” according to the statement.

Tacoma Public Schools has offered transition help for SOAR families.

“We’re able to accommodate any of the families that are able to transition back to their (district) schools,” Tacoma schools spokesman Dan Voelpel said.

As of October, there were 180 students enrolled at SOAR, according to Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. The school serves kindergarten through fifthgrade.

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SOAR students look other options

Families have the opportunity to relocate to another Tacoma school or to choose another education path, said Alyce McNeil, spokeswoman for the Washington State Charter School Commission. The commission released a news release about the closure Friday.

“We are deeply saddened by their closure,” it stated.

Funding special education was a large piece of the financial struggle, according to the Charter School Commission. The state’s 13.5 percent per-school funding cap created challenges for SOAR, where 20 percent of students qualify for special education services.

The “closure at the end of this school year is a clarion call to the charter school sector that we have a lot of work to do to figure out how we fund special education in our state so that schools like SOAR have the opportunity to thrive,” Cindi Williams, who chairs the Washington State Charter School Commission, said in a news release.

More than 77 percent of SOAR students qualify for free and reduced lunches, 15 percent are homeless and 80 percent are students of color.

SOAR Academy opened in 2015 at 2136 Martin Luther King Jr. Way. It started with only kindergarten and first-grade students. SOAR stands for Success, Outcomes, Arts and Rigor.

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