Frequently Asked Questions about I-1240
1) I understand that only non-profits corporations can start a charter school. Is that right?
That is correct. However, that would include ANY non-profit corporation. For example, Planned Parenthood or the NRA or the ACLU or the Gates Foundation could apply as non-profits. Section 201, pages 4-5
2) And only non-profits can run a charter school, right?
That’s tricky because the initiative would allow a charter to contract out many services to other companies/corporations that are FOR-PROFIT including operations and educational instructional services. They can also contract out management but only to another non-profit corporation. Section 203, page 6.
3) Aren’t these charters being opened to help at-risk kids?
That’s what voters are being told but this initiative has NO set-aside spaces for charter schools for those kids. The initiative would allow an authorizer to give “preference” to a charter application that would serve those students but then doesn’t say how. Section 214, pages 20-21
And, if there are more than eight approved charter applications, they ALL go into a lottery without any preference to whom they serve. There really is no way of knowing what kind of charters we might get. Section 215, page 22.
4) I-1240 would create new charter schools.
Actually it would create two types of charter schools. Section 213, pages 17-20
One is a start-up, meaning it’s a new school that would solicit for students. It might located in an unused school building or co-located with an existing school if there is space. It could be in leased space from another public building or private building. There could be an application form that parents must fill out to enroll their child in a charter school (rather than simply enrolling a student as you do for an traditional school).
The other is a conversion charter that uses what is called a trigger petition. A charter group with an approved application can go to ANY existing school, circulate a petition to either parents OR teachers, and if a majority of either group signs it, the charter takes over that existing school, building and all.
For example, say your neighborhood elementary school has 18 teachers and they are convinced by a charter applicant to sign a petition. With just 10 signatures, the charter flips the school and the entire community changes.
5) What about students currently enrolled in the school?
Currently enrolled students in a conversion charter can stay but parents have to accept whatever kind of charter it is.
For those students who don't want to stay, the district the conversion charter is in must then scramble to find room for them at other schools. The children probably would not stay together as a cohort. For the school district administration, this may mean changing boundaries, moving those students who don’t want to stay in a conversion school to other schools, changing transportation plans and finding new jobs for displaced staff, which might mean displacing staff at other schools.
6) But creating a conversion charter using the trigger petition is only for failing schools, right?
No, a charter could take over ANY existing school – high performing, mid-performing, low-performing or failing.
7) But why would they want to take over a school that isn’t failing?
Two reasons. One, if some of the population stays, they already have a great start on a stable student body. And two, they gain a free school building.
Charters have to find their own space. If they can take over an existing building, they have control of it and they don’t pay rent to the district. The district even has to continue to pay for major maintenance to the building. Section 223, page 31.
8) So how does the chartering process work under this initiative?
First, there are two types of authorizers. Section 212, pages 16-17
One is a newly-created Charter Commission, the other authorizer is the existing school board that applies to be an authorizer. Both accept proposals and even have to solicit for charter proposals. The authorizers review the proposals and then submit them to the State Board of Education (BOE) by a certain date.
If more than 8 approved charter proposals reach the BOE, then ALL of them go into a lottery. There’s no further review by the BOE of which proposals would be the strongest applicants – they all go into a lottery. Section 215, page 22
A charter group can only apply to one authorizer at a time.
9) Do both types of authorizers become authorizers in the same way?
No, they don’t.
School Boards have to apply to the State Board of Education to be authorizers. The Board of Education is responsible to oversee School Board authorizers.
The members of the Charter Commission are selected by the elected officials but that’s where any elected oversight ends. They are not reviewed by the Board of Education before they start their work and no one reviews their work. Sections 209/212
10) Do the authorizers have to follow the same procedures to approve a charter application?
No, they don’t. The initiative has a checklist of items for the School Boards to look for in a charter proposal but leaves ranking those criteria to each individual School Board. Section 214, pages 20-21.
As for the Charter Commission, the initiative is silent on how they select charter proposals as they do NOT have to follow the same standards in the initiative as do School Boards. Section 209, pages 12-13 and Section 212, pages 16-17 cover procedures that do NOT apply to the Charter Commission.
11) Who is on the Charter Commission?
It’s a 9-member group: the Governor, the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate each select 3 members. There can only be five members of one political party on the Commission. One member must be a Washington State public school parent. Each serves a 4-year term. Section 208, pages 10-12 states:
All members shall have demonstrated an understanding of and commitment to charter schooling as a strategy for strengthening public education.
This rule means a well-qualified retired educator or administrator without a real position on charters would be passed over for membership on the Commission for someone who has no education background but believes in charters. Objectivity would not seem to be a qualification for being on the Charter Commission.
12) Who oversees the Charter Commission if they are not elected like School Boards?
The answer is no one: not the Governor, not the State Board of Education, not parents or citizens, no one. And there is no mechanism to remove poor-performing Commission members. Section 212, pages 16-17
13) Anything else about authorizing?
Voters should know that any authorizer – the Charter Commission or a School Board – may contract out their authorizing work and then rubber-stamp the decision. The Charter Commission members or School Board members might never review a charter application themselves. Section 210, pages 13-15
Additionally, authorizers are to follow the “chartering policies and practices that are consistent with the principles and standards for quality charter authorizing developed by the national association of charter school authorizers in at least the following areas:…" Section 210, pages 13-15
The National Association of Charter School Authorizers is funded by the Walton and Gates Foundations among others. Bill Gates and Alice Walton, a Walmart heiress, are the major contributors funding to I-1240.
14) The initiative would create 8 charters per year over a 5-year period for a total of 40 in five years.
That is true on the face of it. However, wording exists in the initiative that is unclear about whether more than 40 charters could be created. Section 101, page 3
(iii) Require that there will be annual performance reviews of public charter schools created under this measure, and that the performance of these schools be evaluated to determine whether additional public charter schools should be allowed;
This can be interpreted several ways but the word “additional” is troubling. One interpretation is that the Charter Commission at year 3 could conclude charters are doing well and authorize more of them to come on-line. This is unclear.
Furthermore, in Section 215, it appears ONLY new charters, as defined in a previous section, would fall under the 40 charter limit. Conversion charters probably would not.
Meaning, because I-1240 does not state how many existing schools are allowed to become conversion charters, the real number of charter schools opening in Washington over the 5-year period is unpredictable. Furthermore, conversion charters can open in any community and at any school, failing or not, given a successful "trigger petition."
15) What is the relationship between charters and the districts they are in under the initiative?
Basically, each charter is a Local Education Agency (LEA) which means it is its own district. However, each charter school, once approved, is eligible for the following from the district it sits in:
- Its students can compete in any district scholarships, awards and competitions. Section 206, page 10
- A charter can take over an existing school with the trigger mechanism, building and all (conversion charter). Section 223, pages 30-31
- If a district has a building that is closed or available for lease, they can buy/lease the building at or BELOW market rate. Section 223, page 30
- A conversion charter is eligible for its share of any levy, operations or capital, passes BEFORE it was converted. Section 222, page 30
- New charters are eligible for any levy money, operations or capital, from any levies passed after it is approved. Section 223, page 30
However, charters do not have to follow district policies at all and that includes issues like weapons on campus, discipline, etc. Section 204, page 7-9.
16) So if a charter buys a school building below market cost, doesn’t that mean that the district (and taxpayers) lose money?
Yes, it does.
17) What other kind of buildings can a charter locate in?
A charter can locate in any other public or private buildings AND ask for rental/lease rates at or BELOW market value. If you are a commercial property owner, you may LOSE money renting/leasing to charters. Section 223, page 31
18) But there is more accountability with a charter school, right?
The initiative is vague and somewhat confusing on this issue.
On the one hand, it says that each authorizer must be continuously monitoring performance but then in Section 218, pages 25-26 it says:
The authorizers “may” conduct or require oversight activities that enable the authorizer to fulfill its responsibilities under this chapter… Section 218, pages 25-26.
Section 220, pages 27-28 covers non-renewal or revocation but does NOT say that an authorizer can close a charter outright if performance measures are not reached. It says an authorizer can allow a charter to show “exceptional circumstances.” There is no automatic closure of a charter if it falls in the bottom quartile of schools on the accountability index.
An annual report is required by the authorizers and the State Board of Education, but not the charter school.
The initiative does not require any input from staff or parents about nonrenewal of a charter.
The Federal Department of Education said in a study that more than half of the authorizers of charters said they have trouble closing a failing charter school.
Authorizers can also delegate their oversight responsibility to employees or contractors. Section 210, page 14.
Also in that section on page 15:
Neither an authorizer, individuals who comprise the membership of an authorizer in their official capacity, nor the employees of an authorizer are liable for acts or omissions of a charter school they authorize.
It is unclear who is accountable for acts or omissions by a charter school.
19) I like the idea of charters because I want more choice. Will my child receive transportation so I can easily access this choice?
No, the initiative does not require a charter to provide any transportation. If you can’t get your child to the school, you may not be able to access that choice. Section 222,pages 29-30
"Choice" by offering charter schools for a minority of students will mean fewer options for students remaining in traditional public schools because sharing limited public funds will reduce electives, sports and other extracurricular programs that provide choices to all students.
20) Who manages a charter school?
Each charter will have a charter board but the initiative doesn’t require any set qualifications or a set number of members or even require a background check as they do for adults who work in public school buildings. Section 213, pages 17-20
21) How big can a charter be and where do the students come from?
Charters can be as big or small as the charter chooses their enrollment to be. If a child leaves, they don’t have to fill that space even if another child wants it (unlike traditional schools).
Any child in Washington State can apply to any charter. So, for example, a child who lives in Seattle can attend a charter located in Bellevue.
22) Do charters serve all types of children and their specific needs like Special Education students?
Charter Schools are under the same federal laws to serve all children including English Language Learners (ELL), Special Education and homeless students. Unfortunately, charters are able to “counsel out” many of those students; statistics show that charters underserve those groups. (Government Accountability Office report, June 2012).
23) Can there be religious charters?
No, that is prohibited. However, there can be “themed” schools and these are popular around the country. Basically, a charter can have an ethnic or country-based theme and, as part of that education, teaching about religion can occur. The largest charter group in the country, Gulan, is Turkish-based and imports teachers from Turkey. 60 Minutes did a revealing look at Gulan recently. Section 205, pages 9-10
24) Don’t charters receive less state money than traditional schools?
That’s somewhat true but that’s to pay for the accountability that comes with being a charter. The authorizer is paid a fee to do that oversight. In exchange for accountability, they get more flexibility but parents and taxpayers have to be sure the charter school is being held accountable.
Additionally, many charter groups like KIPP receive private donations that supplement their state dollars. KIPP schools, on average, receive about $4K more than the traditional schools in their districts.
25) Does a charter have to have a union for its staff?
No, it doesn’t. Charters can unionize but cannot be part of any existing union, nor create a union of charter schools. Only individual charters schools can unionize.