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Washington state Supreme Court will decide future of charter schools

By   /   August 27, 2014  /   No Comments

By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

Washington state’s Supreme Court will determine whether charter schools will be allowed in the state. Hearing are expected to begin in October.

The charter school law, approved by Washington state voters in 2012, allows for about 40 charter schools to open during the next five years. This fall, First Place, already serving families of extreme poverty as a private school offering  counseling, housing, advocacy access to other resource, will begin serving students as a charter school. Many First Place students come from familieswho that are highly mobile, homeless and struggle with drug abuse and domestic violence.

As a charter school, First Place will be able to serve more students.

READ WATCHDOG.ORG’s PROFILE OF FIRST PLACE

Photo courtesy of First Place

Because First Place can operate as a charter school, it can serve more students struggling in poverty. A coalition of plaintiffs has sued the state of Washington, hoping to disallow schools like First Place.

Seven other charter schools have been authorized and are expected to open in the fall 2015. All eight schools are geared toward underserved students who struggle in traditional schools, said Lisa Mcfarlane, spokesperson for Washington Charter Schools Association.

The state’s charter law gives priority to schools serving at-risk students, she said.

Pride Prep, a charter school slated to open in fall 2015 in Spokane, will locate in a low-income area of town.

“Our goal is to really try to encourage all of our underserved students to put their name in the lottery,” said Brenda McDonald, founder and CEO of Pride Prep. “We are completely open enrollment school by law, but our goal is to serve our most underserved kids in Spokane.”

In 2013, a coalition including the Washington Education Association, the League of Women Voters, El Centro de la Raza, the Washington Association of School Administrators and a few individuals sued the state in an attempt to overturn the charter-school law.

A hearing before the state Supreme Court, Mcfarlane said, was not unexpected.

“We welcome that review because we’re confident the law will pass constitutional muster,” she said.

The trial court’s decision in December upheld the substance of the law, knocking out one provision pertaining to construction funding, thought none of the prospective charter school administrators had planned to use the construction funding.

“Nothing about the litigation has changed the reality that we’re going to have charter schools in Washington State,” she said.

Attorney for the plaintiffs did not return calls for comment.

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Mary C. Tillotson is a national education reporter for Watchdog.org. She has reported for School Reform News, published by the Heartland Institute, and The St. Ignace News in northern Michigan. Contact Mary at mtillotson@watchdog.org.

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