Op-Ed: Why you should vote yes on I-1240

By Lisa Macfarlane

One size does not fit all. As great as many of our schools are, we have far too many children dropping out of school and having doors of opportunity closed on them. An unconscionable number of students--14,000 -- drop out of our public schools every year, and it is frankly a moral and economic imperative that we do more to help struggling students succeed. Sure, our public school system works well for many, but far too many students are being left behind, unprepared for college or their future careers.

As a parent and education advocate, I’ve worked very hard over the years to strengthen our public schools here in Seattle and around the state. More is possible. That’s why I have changed my mind on charter schools, and that’s why I am voting yes on Initiative 1240.

I-1240 will allow up to 40 public charter schools in Washington over the next five years, with priority going to schools serving at-risk students. A YES vote on 1240 means more public school options for parents and students here in Washington.

Charter schools are an important educational option available through the public school systems in 41 other states, and every year, these schools are helping more and more at-risk students succeed.

It is important for voters to know that charter schools are public schools. They’re free and open to all students, just like other public schools, and they receive funding based on student enrollment, just like traditional public schools.

Just as in traditional public schools, teachers in public charters schools are held to the same certification standards and students must meet the same academic standards.

And, Initiative 1240 requires that public charter schools operate with strict oversight and accountability, including annual performance reviews. Charter schools are independently managed by approved non-profit organizations, and will be overseen by either a local school board or a newly created charter school commission.

The key difference between a public charter school and a traditional public school is that teachers and principals in charter schools have flexibility around curriculum, budgets, scheduling, staffing, length of school day and length of school year to better meet the individual needs of their students.

This is especially important for students who aren’t succeeding in traditional school settings, or who need a different learning environment to reach their full potential.

Because charter schools are public schools that are free and open to all students, no money leaves the public school system. I-1240 does not change current state law regarding public school funding, so just like under current law, the money follows the child and stays within the public school system, serving public school students, just as it does now when a child transfers from one school to another.

If I thought for a minute that the passage of this modest charter school law would make it harder for the state to meet its financial obligations to public schools, I would not be an enthusiastic member of the coalition in support of I-1240. I have spent the last 16 years of my professional life fighting for the resources that our public schools need. I have sponsored two statewide funding initiatives. I am a Past
President of Schools First and have worked tirelessly on Seattle’s last 9 school levy campaigns. Now that the Supreme Court has ruled that the state is not meeting its constitutional obligation to fully fund public education, I am working with legislative leaders to find systemic funding solutions.

States with the strongest charter school laws, like I-1240, are getting the best results for their kids. Multiple research studies have confirmed that public charter schools are getting better results than traditional public schools, particularly with low income and minority students in urban areas.

We all know that children learn differently. Allowing public charter schools in our state will provide more options for parents and students to find the best school environment for our kids.

Charter schools are enormously popular with parents around the country because of the results they are getting for children. And the ultimate measure of parental participation is being able to choose the school that best fits your child’s needs.

I encourage you to learn more about public charter schools by visiting YESon1240.com. And please join me in voting YES on 1240!

Lisa Macfarlane was a Seattle Public Schools parent for 13 years. She is an education funding advocate, a founder of the League of Education Voters, and currently serves as the Washington State Director of Democrats for Education Reform.

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