Charters Now?

Connie Compton, KEA President, has some thoughts on Charter schools:

Our legislators and their constituents need to focus their energy and address the real problem in education in our state. Putting an issue on the table that Washington voters have already rejected three times distracts needed energy from solving the real problem.

Washington State has been cutting the education budget year after year. Education Week recently ranked Washington 42nd in per pupil spending ($9,329/pupil in WA versus the national average of $11,665/student) and 44th in state expenditures as a percent of state taxable resources.

We have less and less to meet the needs of our students. When I started in education over 30 years ago we had supply rooms with pencils, crayons and construction paper. We had textbooks and a wide variety of materials. As a special ed. teacher, I had a budget to purchase the unique materials my students might need to grow and learn. With the drastic budget cuts in our state, supply rooms are empty, textbooks are often out of date and special ed. teachers no longer have funds for basic materials and that’s just a start. Teachers spend hundreds of dollars out of their own pockets to make up the difference to supply their students with paper and pencils, and sometimes even coats and shoes.

And please don’t blame teacher salaries – Washington has consistently dropped down the list ranking states for teacher salaries. Our teachers are lower paid than all other states on the West Coast in spite of a high cost of living, particularly in the Puget Sound region. Last year the state legislature further cut teacher salaries by 1.9%. A handful of districts, including Kent, are paying the 1.9% out of other funds – however, before that Kent was the lowest paid district out of 22 in the Puget Sound region.

Charter Schools will take time and money to implement. They take funds away from true public schools that meet the needs of each and every student who walks through the door. Coming up with the staff to process applications, oversee charters, and the other related needs will cost our districts and state money. We need to work together to figure out how to fund what we have and not start anything new that we don’t have the money for.

If and when we solve our budget issues at both the state and local level and truly meet our state constitution’s requirement to amply fund public education, then we can begin to look at the valid research and statistics and learn from the experiences of other states. We can consider the many instances in which charters have been mismanaged and done more harm than good. We can look at the data regarding innovative schools that already exist in our state. Then we can then decide if this is really the best direction to go to meet the needs of the students of our state.

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