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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Despite legal fights, charters thrive in Washington state

Summit Atlas Public School, a new charter school in Seattle, stresses personalized learning.

Operating under a “cloud of legal uncertainty” and often housed in portables, Washington state’s charter schools are attracting students, reports Claudia Rowe in the Seattle Times.

The oldest charters opened less than three years ago, writes Rowe. Legal challenges “continue to work through the Washington courts.”

Yet there are now about 2,400 students from the Seattle, Kent, Tacoma, Highline and Spokane school districts enrolled in charters, which have more freedom than traditional public schools to hire and teach as they like. In return for that flexibility, each must submit to annual audits of their fiscal stability and academic performance. Some are already at capacity, others see new students sign up each month. And two more charters are set to open this fall — one in Tukwila, the other in Walla Walla.

By state law, all are operated by independent nonprofits.

Charter schools promised to focus on “students at risk of falling behind in traditional public schools,” writes Rowe. So far, 75 percent are “kids of color, 63 percent come from low-income families and 16 percent are learning-disabled.”

In Seattle, where educators vigorously opposed the incursion of charters, School Board members point out that each student who enrolls in one means anywhere from $7,000 to $13,700 less for the district. Give us time to get better, board President Leslie Harris has implored, pointing to improved performance at several high-poverty schools. Yet gaps between middle-class and disadvantaged children in Seattle are widening, and in a district that already had some of the largest academic disparities in the U.S., parents of minority kids are losing patience.

Are charter students learning more? It’s too soon to say.

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