Monday, March 19, 2012

Feedback on charter school bill, SB 6202

WSPTA neither supports or opposes; is evaluating and cites concerns
NOTE: This bill was heard in January by the Senate Early Learning and K-12 Education Committee. A companion bill was heard by the House Education Committee. It did not move out of committee and was not discussed or voted on by either chamber, but it was funded in at least one budget proposal from the Senate.

Washington State PTA has qualified support for charter schools and is actively looking for ways to close our state's entrenched achievement gaps. The association is supportive of allowing charter public schools in Washington as a way to improve accountability and innovation – but only if the charter public schools support our principles and follow state law.

In the bill as it currently stands, it is unclear how shared decision making will be sustained at either transformation zone schools or charter schools, or how the state will monitor and address impacts on the surrounding school district. Provisions to engage and involve families and community need to be strengthened, particularly since most laws would be waived. (Washington law allows for waivers, but currently all schools must follow a formal process.)

The following written testimony was shared with legislators on the Senate and House education committees when the bills were first heard.

SB 6202 (Companion bill, HB 2428). 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:
Public charter schools
Educational opportunities

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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