Education Reform
8:59 am
Wed October 23, 2013

A Look At Washington's First Charter School Contenders

Correction 10/24/2013: This story has been changed to correct the number of schools that can be approved in the first round of applications.

More than two dozen organizations say they’ll apply to start the state’s first charter schools.

Included among them: A school for gifted early elementary students in Spokane Valley; a Tacoma branch of the national charter chain Green Dot; and a Seattle elementary for kids who have experienced extreme trauma.

The formal notices of intent filed by Tuesday's deadline cover a wide variety of ages, approaches and locations. Only the organizations that met the deadline will be able to submit formal applications.

State Charter Commission Board Chair Steve Sundquist said prospective applicants have been operating under a tight timeline in this first year since charters were legalized in Washington by approval of Initiative 1240.

"We didn’t anticipate that we would receive as many notices as we have, but I’m pleased to see that," Sundquist said.

No applicants have proposed converting existing public schools to charters, but three private schools say they'll apply for charter status.

Roger Franklin is founder of the private Cedar River Academy in Enumclaw, which focuses on experiential learning and serves 42 students, from preschool through eighth grade. Franklin said tuition and fees amount to about $15,000, although the school offers some scholarships.

Becoming a charter would allow Cedar River to operate by public funding rather than tuition. But it would also force the school to clear its rolls and open its doors to all Washington students, so Franklin said existing students’ families have mixed feelings about the school possibly going charter.

"Well, they’re happy, of course, that tuition would be eliminated," Franklin said. "But they are concerned that their kids might not have a chance to attend."

Most of the proposed schools would open next fall.

Others plan to defer opening until 2015.

Prospective charter founders have until Nov. 22 to file a lengthy application with either the state or Spokane Public Schools, the first district granted charter authorizer status for potential schools within its bounds.

Under the law, as many as eight schools can be approved to open each year for five years.

Final decisions will be made in late February.