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Charter-school fans optimistic

Note: Jim Spady is a board member of Discovery Institute.
Original article

OLYMPIA – After years of disappointment, charter-school advocates are beginning to sense victory in the Legislature.

The Senate, long the burial ground for charter-school legislation, recently approved a go-slow plan that would allow formation of five of the independent, publicly funded schools in each of the next two years.

The House, which repeatedly has supported charter schools in previous years, is likely to endorse the concept again, House Education Chairman Dave Quall, D-Mount Vernon, said yesterday.

“It’s about the kids, not about just protecting the status quo of the system we have,” he said in an interview. “Charter schools serve the underserved, those from poverty and people of color.”

His committee gave a friendly reception to the Senate-passed measure, Senate Bill 5012.

Under the plan, nonprofit sponsors – no religious groups would be involved – could apply to their school districts or a university for a renewable five-year operating contract called a charter. The school would get tax dollars but would be free of most state and local rules and regulations.

In all, the bill would allow formation of 70 schools during the next six years, including existing schools that convert to charter-school status.

Quall’s committee took testimony from charter-school principals from California and Texas and watched a “60 Minutes” segment on academies in Houston and the Bronx.

Yvonne Chan, introduced by Quall as “one of my education heroes,” described taking over a “throwaway” failing school in inner-city Los Angeles and transforming it into a vibrant charter school.

The new school has a 200-day school year and longer school days, performance-based pay for teachers, and students who are performing well, she said.

Black community leaders in Seattle, including James Kelly of the Urban League, said minority students need well-funded alternative schools.

“Here in Washington, we have lofty goals, lousy schools,” Kelly said.

Jim Spady, one of the state’s foremost advocates of charter schools, predicted legislative approval after a decade of trying, including two failed efforts to get it done by initiative.

“This is the year,” he said.

Quall stopped short of making a flat prediction.

“We have a lot of new members, 18 in fact, to educate on this issue, and we have a $2.6 billion deficit to deal with,” he said. “We’ll get it out of committee and then go to work on the full House.”

He said state schools chief Terry Bergeson is opposed to the bill this year but that Gov. Gary Locke probably would sign it.

Other key education players also weighed in against the legislation.

The Washington Education Association, the teachers union, said it’s the wrong time to launch charter schools, and that lawmakers should try to fund two voter-approved initiatives, to provide annual pay raises for teachers and to continue reducing class size.

“Our human and fiscal resources are stretched thin,” said teachers-union lobbyist Lucinda Young.

“You know, our resources are too limited to start this,” said Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, who has blocked the bill in past years. “I tell you, this is not the time.”