Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Charter public schools initiative under review

Proponents of charter public schools have filed an initiative bid with the Secretary of State, and Washington State PTA members may ask whether the association supports the effort. (See 11th hour filing)

Nationally, PTA has qualified support for charter public schools. And Washington State PTA is actively looking for ways to close our state's entrenched achievement gaps. We are supportive of choice and innovative schools – including charter public schools when they reflect the positions and principles of PTA.

At this point, staff is reviewing the initiative to see if it aligns with WSPTA criteria. The charter proponents who filed the initiative have told us it improves upon on a bill introduced to the legislature this past session. We had concerns with that bill and could not fully support it.  (Key points noted below. See also, Grassroots Connection: Feedback on SB 6202)

Once staff's review is complete, the legislative director and president will give it to our newly installed board, as well as our new regional legislative chairs. (New WSPTA Board members took office June 1.) The board will need time to both learn about the issue and engage with their respective PTA communities.

In the past, the board's practice has been to not take a position on ballot initiatives until it is clear that the issue will actually come before voters. Initiative supporters still need to gather enough signatures to place it on the ballot.

Our stance on the 2012 charter school bill:

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. (National PTA position on charter schools)

In regards to the bill introduced in the 2012 legislative session, WSPTA asked for more streamlined governance; stronger provisions for shared decision-making with families; and clarity on the closure process for failing charter schools.

We also asked 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.

About our position:

On the charter issue, our focus is not on the label of the school but of the supports in place for student success. While we are not opposed to alternative governance structures or school autonomy, neither are we relaxed in our support. All schools – innovative, traditional or charter -- need to be embraced by the local community, support student learning in an inclusive manner, and engage families in a shared-decision making process. We feel this last component is especially important if schools are to be granted waivers or be allowed to opt out of certain laws and policies.

Ideally, PTA would like all schools to honor the same core guidelines. Washington State has a precedent, however, of waiving rules if districts can cite an instructional reason, and recently set up a waiver process for schools and districts seeking “innovative” status. So there is precedent for opting out. Washington also is a choice state. Families can choose where to send their child, though they are not guaranteed a slot at their school of choice and they may have to provide their own transportation.

Finally, members should also know that while Washington State does not have charter public schools, most states do. National PTA’s umbrella includes local units at charter schools. PTA is an inclusive association and our policies need to embrace the diversity of our membership.

Our filter for support for any public school option includes: 
  • Strong family-school partnerships that include shared decision-making at all levels of school governance  
  • Positive, student-focused learning environments, including the opportunity for alternative learning experiences  
  • Promotion of and assurances for opportunity and equity for all children  
  • Universal access to fully prepared, effective teachers  
  • School performance targets of which student growth is a top priority – including transparent and comparable information on how schools are serving students  
  • Appropriation of public education funds for public purposes only, channeled through locally elected school boards
- Ramona Hattendorf, WSPTA government relations coordinator

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