Washington’s Charter School Value: Who Benefits?
Washington State voters have turned down charter schools three times in the past. Voters twice rejected charter school initiatives and repealed a charter school law passed by the legislature and signed by the governor. The charter school issue is back like a persistent kid, not satisfied with an initial rejection of a request for something, who keeps asking until the parents wear down and give in.
The charter school issue is back in the form of HB 2428 and companion SB 6202: Establishing alternative forms of governance for certain public schools. What value is there to having charter schools in Washington State? Will the targeted educationally disadvantaged students across the state benefit from charter schools or will benefits lie elsewhere?
Section 115 of both bills addresses the number of charter schools allowed in the state should this legislation pass.
Sec. 115. NUMBER OF CHARTER SCHOOLS. (1) A maximum of fifty charter schools may be established statewide under this chapter. No more than ten charter schools may be established each calendar year. These annual allocations are cumulative so that if the maximum number of allowable new charters is not reached in any given year the maximums are increased accordingly for the successive years, but in no case may the total number exceed fifty without further legislative authorization.
What might these numbers mean in terms of serving the educationally disadvantaged students across the state and the benefits of having charter schools? Consider looking at this in three ways: 1) the number of schools, 2) the enrollment, and 3) the dollars per student.
There are about 1,900 schools in Washington state with an enrollment greater than 100. If 50 of those schools were charter schools, only 2.6% of the schools in the state would be charter schools established with the purpose of meeting the needs of the educationally disadvantaged students across the state.
Consider enrollment in terms of average school enrollment and well above average enrollment. The average enrollment of the nearly 1900 schools in WA is about 540. If each of 50 charter schools had an average enrollment they would serve 27,000 students, or 2.6% of the statewide enrollment of 1,024,711. A school enrollment of 1,500 is well above average with 74 schools in the state, or 4%, of Washington state schools having an enrollment this larger or larger. If each of 50 charter schools had an above average enrollment of 1,500 students, 7,500 students, or 7.3% of Washington students would be served. The estimate of 7.3% is on the high end. 2.6% is more realistic even though it could also be high. Will having charter schools serving a possible 2.6% of the state’s schools or students really address the needs of the educationally disadvantaged students in the state?
(Data in the OSPI Washington State Report Card 2011 Data Files Demographic Information by District was used for the calculations presented above. Schools with enrollment of less than 100 and their student enrollment figures were not used in the above calculations.)
If an approximate amount of $10,000 per student per year of taxpayer’s money is used, the estimated 27,000 students that may be served by charter schools will generate $270,000,000. Who will benefit?
(Washington State School Districts Per Pupil All Expenditure—Four-Year Average by County shows a per FTE expenditure of $9,982.69 for the school 2004-2005 fiscal year. An approximate $10,000 per student per year is used for the calculations presented above.)
President Obama and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan have called for states with charter schools to lift their caps on the number of charter schools allowed and not limit their growth. Will the pressure, and possible coercion, from the federal level result in a legislature that acquiesces in the future to these demands?
Are parents, voters, taxpayers, and local community members willing to have the state create more layers of bureaucracy without any opportunity for elected representation in the governance of charter schools that likely will serve 2.6% of our schools or students? The current legislation calls for the creation of a commission as a state agency. Commission members will be appointed. Charter schools will have their own appointed or selected board of directors. There is no provision in the legislation for the public to have elected representation in the governance of charter schools. School choice? It is possible that parents of 2.6% of the students in the state will have charter schools as a choice for their child. They will not have, even as a taxpayer and voter, a choice in the governance of a charter school in their local community.
What is the value of charter schools in Washington State? Is it the opportunity that may be provided to the state’s educationally disadvantaged students? Is it the opportunity for nonprofits to capitalize on a possible $10,000 per student? Is it the opportunity provided to for profit corporations? Charter schools’ appointed school boards are allowed to contract with for profit corporations to provide instructional services and manage and operate the schools. Who benefits? Or should the question be who benefits most?
HB 2428 - 2011-12 Establishing alternative forms of governance for certain public schools.
SB 6202 - 2011-12 Establishing alternative forms of governance for certain public schools.
Charter school feud to raise its head again in state
Designing Smart Charter School Caps
OSPI Washington State Report Card 2011 Data Files Demographic Information by District
Washington State School Districts Per Pupil All Expenditure—Four-Year Average by County
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Originally posted at Seattle Education News and Commentary.