Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hearing recap and testimony on charter schools

A work session on Washington’s Innovative Schools and a public hearing on SB 6041, lighthouse school programs; and SB 6202, establishing alternative forms of governance for certain public schools

Dear advocates,
Innovation was the theme at this morning’s gathering of the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Committee. First senators heard an overview of the state’s designated Innovative Schools and a presentation by the TAF Academy, a public-private partnership that operates STEM-focused schools in Federal Way and Renton. (STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).

Then the committee held public hearings on SB 6041, expansion of STEM Lighthouse Programs to include three elementary schools. Lighthouse schools model STEM programs and provide technical assistance to other schools and communities that want to create similar programs. The Legislature provided $150,000 in the 2010 Supplemental Operating Budget to fund the technical assistance.

Improving math and science education, particularly in elementary schools, is our No. 2 priority and WSPTA provided written testimony in support.  Senate bill report for SB 6041.

Finally the committee heard testimony on SB 6202, a bill that would allow a limited number of charter schools to operate in Washington, with a focus on improving academic achievement for educationally disadvantaged students. The bill would also establish a statewide school district, called a “transformation zone,” that would take over the lowest-performing schools and transfer management of them to private non-profit learning management organizations. Senate bill report for SB 6202.
Nationally, PTA supports the concept of charter schools – with qualifications. Our focus in Washington is to make sure any proposed legislation reflects PTA principles (per National PTA’s position) and drives innovation and accountability (per WSPTA’s platform position taken this fall). We do not have a position on transformation zones. We have not taken a position for or against SB 6202 or its companion bill in the House. At this time we are providing feedback that would better align proposed legislation to our principles. WSPTA provided written testimony to the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Committee. (Included below)

The committee heard from two panels – one for and one against. Speaking for were the League of Education Voters; a Whitworth College (Spokane) student who graduated from a charter school in California; two educators; and a former educator and parent. A representative from the Washington Roundtable, a business group, also spoke in support. Speaking against were the Washington Education Association, the Washington School Directors Association, the Association of Washington School Principals, and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.
Testimony and questions focused on the charter school component of the law and not the transformation zone. A preliminary fiscal impact statement notes implementation costs of more than $33 million, starting in 2013-14.
·         A companion bill, HB 2428 is scheduled to be heard in the House Education Committee this Friday, January 20, at 1:30 p.m. 

·         Also slated for a hearing at this time is HB 2606, a bill submitted on behalf of Gov. Gregoire that would establish laboratory school partnerships to “bring together Washington's institutions of higher education and low-achieving public schools to collaborate and implement plans to accelerate student achievement and deepen the knowledge and skills of educators.”

Related WSPTA 2012 priorities: Educational opportunities; public charter schools;
Members are encouraged to advocate for any or all the issues on our legislative platform; staff will devote the most time and resources to the higher ranked issues.  2012 legislative platform.
The Senate Early Learning and K-12 Committee members are:

Senator McAuliffe is chair; Senator Rolfes is vice chair and Senator Litzow is the ranking minority member.
Washington State PTA testimony, Jan. 18. 2012
To: Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee
Re: SB 6041, lighthouse schools; and SB 6202, alternative forms of governance for certain schools

SB 6041, lighthouse schools
Improving math and science education, particularly in elementary school, is our No. 2 priority and Washington State PTA thanks you for considering the bill. We support.
6202. Alternative forms of governance for certain public schools
Washington State PTA believes great educational outcomes are possible for all students, including students of color, students of diverse cultural or linguistic backgrounds, lower income status and students with special needs. Members are keenly aware that our state has entrenched gaps, and on behalf of the association I would like to thank you for considering new ideas and approaches.

As an association, we are still evaluating this bill, especially its creation of a statewide “transformation zone.” A proactive approach is appealing. However, it is not clear how a transformation zone would align with the required action process laid out in SB 6696 – 2010’s landmark reform bill. SB 6696 injected family/community engagement into school turnaround, and its absence in this bill is missed. Lack of community input into just how instruction and services will change is a big concern to us. Meaningful change and clear communication can’t happen if families are shut out of the decision-making process. 

As for the charter school component of this bill, nationally PTA acknowledges public charter schools as one avenue to school reform and we have qualified support for them. Our focus is on ensuring they are well-governed, responsive to local need, and focused on working with families to meet the instructional needs of students. Fundamentally, charter schools need to be an asset to a community and welcoming to all students. PTA position on charter schools

In regards to this proposal, we would look for more streamlined governance (do we really need another commission?); stronger provisions for shared decision-making with families; and clarity on the closure process for failing charter schools.

We would also look for a mechanism by which charter schools could share best practices with neighboring schools, and assurances that decisions about charter schools would take into consideration impact on the surrounding school district.

In discussion of charter schools among members, concern about services to students with disabilities repeatedly came up, as did concern about funding. Support for allowing charter schools, meanwhile, centered on the success that certain charter schools have with children affected by the achievement gaps. If Washington chooses to go this route we want the best charter law possible.

Related Washington State PTA platform positions:

Children in our persistently lowest achieving schools need viable choices; and students affected by the education gaps need enhanced academic supports. Again, thanks for considering and advancing new ideas to achieve this.


Ramona Hattendorf
Government relations coordinator
Washington State PTA

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