Op-Ed: Why charter schools are not enough

This editorial is by Demian Godon, an opponent of I-1240 -- an initiative that would allow charter schools in Washington -- and a parent of two kids at Ballard High School.

It’s no secret that we need to improve education in this state. But a charter schools measure on this year’s ballot is the wrong move.

Initiative 1240 forces the state to spend millions on unproven ideas for a few, while neglecting to do anything that will really help all our kids. And I-1240 leaves little room for parents to be involved. That’s why the Washington State PTA has opposed I-1240.

Washington crams more kids into its classrooms than 46 of our 50 states. Our kids read outdated textbooks and prepare for the 21st century economy with outdated technology –- or no technology at all. We’ve cut music and the arts, PE, higher-level math, science and foreign languages. We’ve eliminated teachers so that too many students don’t receive the attention they need.

Why is this dismantling of our public schools taking place? It’s because our schools are chronically underfunded.

In McCleary v. State of Washington -- the groundbreaking legal action that brought together families, community groups, public school districts and education organizations -- the justices determined that the state had failed its constitutional duty to fund basic education for our kids.

And the justices decided the McCleary case came out before the Legislature whacked an additional $2.6 billion from the K-12 budget.

Our goal must be to educate each and every student, not spend precious resources on just a tiny fraction of children. Charter schools will determine admission by lottery. By contrast, our local neighborhood schools educate all children.

I-1240 doesn’t provide any additional funding for its 40 charter schools, which would all be funded by taxpayers. In fact, I-1240 takes away funding for existing schools.

The way state educational funding works, each student is allocated a certain amount of money and the money follows the student. That means if a charter school is set up in a community, there will be less money for the existing neighborhood public school. That could have real impacts in the classroom.

And there’s no guarantee charter schools would perform better. The most extensive study on charter schools done so far conducted by Stanford University shows that only 17 percent of charters perform better than traditional public schools, while twice that number perform at a lower level.

Let’s not gamble with our kids’ education. We need to be funding good schools for all.

Proponents of I-1240 talk about bringing accountability to education, but the initiative creates a new oversight bureaucracy in Olympia that is staffed by unelected political appointees. This commission can grant charter schools in communities over the objection of the local school board. As a local taxpayer, that means charter schools would have access to your school levy even if your school board doesn’t support them.

As a parent of two Ballard High School students, I’m amazed at its strong academic programs and dedicated teachers, and by the strong parent and community support it receives. But, like all public schools, Ballard High has felt the strain of successive budget cuts. We can’t let our precious education dollars get diverted to unproven charter schools that serve a few. We need to ensure our public schools provide a great education for all students.

I-1240 is the fourth try to bring charter schools into Washington. The others failed at the ballot box. And so should this one.

I hope you’ll join me, the state PTA, the NAACP, El Centro de la Raza, the League of Women Voters and many others, and vote to reject I-1240.

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