Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland: Public Charter Schools Help Children Succeed

As a proud graduate of Tacoma Public Schools, an advocate for public education and an elected official who cares deeply about our city and state’s future, I urge you to join me and cast your vote for Initiative 1240.

Studies show that public charter schools help struggling students succeed. It’s because of this simple fact that I’m voting yes on I-1240.

There are more than 290 school districts in the state of Washington. A yes vote on I-1240 will allow the creation of up to 40 public charter schools over the next five years. This is hardly radical when you consider that they already exist in 41 states. The U.S. Conference of Mayors, representing more than 1,000 city leaders, unanimously supports public charter schools. They know that today’s economy is not the same as it was 20 years ago, and in order to compete for jobs of the future, students in our schools need more options, not fewer.

Charter schools are public schools. They are independently managed by approved nonprofits and are free and open to all. Students must meet the same academic standards as students in traditional public schools. There is no application required to enroll.

Public charter schools must meet the same academic standards as traditional public schools, and their teachers must meet the same certification requirements as teachers in other public schools. However, public charter schools have more flexibility at the school level in setting curriculum, budgets, scheduling and staffing. This flexibility allows public charter schools to better meet the individual needs of students and create customized learning environments that can help students succeed – especially those who are struggling in traditional public school settings.

I-1240 does not change current state law regarding public school funding. I-1240 will provide more options within the public school system. In 2001, Tacoma Public Schools opened the School of the Arts, a new addition to the existing portfolio of comprehensive high schools. In 2008, Lincoln Center (modeled after KIPP charter schools) opened within Lincoln High School. Both provide choice and innovative learning environments for students.

Neither of them is accused of taking funds from public schools because they don’t. Nor will public charter schools. The money follows the student.

I-1240 is based on laws in the states with top-performing public charter schools. A mandated authorization process ensures strict accountability. These schools can be overseen at the local level by your local school board or a state charter school commission.

Research from MIT, Stanford and Harvard have repeatedly documented that in states with comprehensive charter school laws, public charter schools outperform traditional public schools, especially those serving students who are low-income, living in urban communities, are children of color and are English-language learners. I-1240 is modeled after laws of states that have demonstrated student success.

Everyone knows that public schools work well for most students, but not for all. Roughly 14,000 children a year drop out of school in Washington. That number is unacceptable. We must do better. Public charter schools are one proven way to address this ongoing crisis.

I-1240 cannot solve systemic problems such as lack of parental involvement or poverty. What it can do is enhance our public school system by adding flexibility to benefit our students and teachers.

Washington prides itself on being a forward-thinking state that leads innovation. We are the home of Boeing, Nordstrom, and Starbucks, yet we are one of nine states without public charter schools. Every state that surrounds us and every state that competes with us economically has public charter schools. It’s time we change that; Washington students deserve the same options that are available to students in other states.

I-1240 is supported by a bipartisan coalition of teachers, parents, legislators, education advocates and community leaders across our state and is endorsed by every major newspaper in Washington. I urge voters to learn more about public charter schools and I-1240 by visiting

And I hope you will join me in voting yes on 1240.

Marilyn Strickland is the mayor of Tacoma. She is an education advocate and serves on the U.S. Conference of Mayors Public Education Task Force.


The Olympian Endorses YES on 1240–Public Charter Schools Essential to Goal of Innovating K-12

The Washington public school system needs more innovation, especially to meet the needs of low-income, high-risk children from communities of color struggling in traditional public schools.
Initiative 1240 provides an avenue for inventive approaches to education through a cautious experiment with high-quality charter schools.

Voters should approve this initiative.

Approval of I-1240 would permit the establishment of no more than eight charter schools statewide each year for the next five years. The initiative requires the state board of education – the final authorizing entity after a comprehensive process – to give preference to schools “designed to enroll and serve at-risk student populations.”

Charter schools are merely public schools released from traditional bounds. Charter schools can, for example, change their school calendar independently of the school districts in which they reside. They can strategically alter class sizes, and hire and fire teachers based on performance or school priorities.

Charter schools cannot be formed or operated by for-profit education ventures, nor have any religious influence. They are free, open to all students, and must employ teachers who meet all the same certification standards required in traditional schools.

If more students apply to attend a charter school than its capacity, the students will be selected by lottery to ensure fairness and compliance with parents’ rights, civil rights and nondiscrimination laws applicable to all school districts.

Critics of Initiative 1240 have pointed to the uneven performance of charter schools in the 42 other states that now permit them. It is true that states with the weakest charter school laws have underperformed.

But states that built tough enforcement standards and annual performance reviews into their laws, as I-1240 does, have found charter schools outperform traditional schools. Under I-1240, charter schools must meet the identical academic benchmarks and student performance assessments as traditional public schools.

Opponents of I-1240 often cite a Stanford University study stating that only 17 percent of charter schools outperformed traditional schools while 37 percent performed worse.

But that criticism conveniently overlooks two important conclusions of the Stanford study: one, public charter school effectiveness is directly related to the quality of the authorizing and oversight process; and, two, public charter schools achieved better results with low-income, high-risk kids in urban environments.

Initiative 1240 answers both objections. It is based on the strongest and most effective legislation from other states, and it is specifically designed to target the children for whom the Stanford study found charter schools to be the most effective education model.

Critics also fear charter schools will reroute state funding. But charter schools are public schools. If students currently attending private schools returned to the public education system, it would automatically increase public school funding because the state allocates funds on a per-student basis.

Opponents make a point, however, that there are economies of scale by containing the current school population within existing physical buildings. A new school would add incremental expenses for utilities and janitorial services, among others, that do not already exist.

This is a concern. But I-1240 allows for existing schools to be converted into charter schools, and there are enough underutilized school buildings around the state to potentially mitigate this problem.

Traditional public schools have been slow to embrace ground-breaking approaches to education because, unlike charter schools, they are bound by numerous bureaucratic regulations. In separate bills last year, the Legislature ordered the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction to identify schools employing bold and creative ideas, and outlined a process for creating more-innovative schools.

That effort should continue within the traditional school framework and might also benefit from the ideas employed by charter schools, if the initiative wins voter approval.

School districts that already have high-performing schools using an array of educational options won’t need charter schools. Nor should charter schools be seen as the silver bullet that eliminates all the challenges facing today’s educators.

Initiative 1240 takes the best legislation for public school innovation available and aims it at a very specific target. It hopes to lift up the state’s lowest-performing schools and inspire the most at-risk students.
It deserves voter approval.


Spokesman-Review Urges YES on 1240—Teachers, Parents and Students Deserve to Seek Their Own Results

…[I]t’s time, finally, for Washington voters to approve charter schools by saying yes to Initiative 1240.

Education is not about teachers, or schools, or school systems, it’s about children; students no more alike than the stubby snowflakes pasted to classroom walls. In recent years, we have learned more about how each one learns, and introduced new programs that better suit unique ways of apprehending knowledge.

STEM schools and classrooms, for example, are the new, new thing. Several local school districts have launched new or formalized existing programs teaching science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Our society needs more graduates with that knowledge, and many students hunger for it. …

There are more than 300 alternative schools and programs in Washington. How, in this universe of options, has a potential 40 charter schools – the maximum set in I-1240 – come to be perceived as some kind of threat?

Teachers, for one, concerned perhaps that charter school teachers will belong to separate bargaining units. But all charter school teachers must have the same certifications required of other teachers.

Parent groups, for another, including the Washington State PTA. Their concerns: no guarantee of a parent role in governance, and oversight seemingly once-removed from local control. Neither has to be true, especially if local school boards get approval to authorize charter schools within their districts. A nine-member commission that must include a parent will have that authority if districts do not step up.

Note that state-approved schools would not be entitled to local levy dollars approved before they were chartered. Locally authorized schools would qualify for that support immediately; thus creating a major incentive to get a school district’s approval.

Preference in authorizing schools would be given to those serving at-risk students, a definition that would encompass many students in the poorer areas of Spokane.

The most disingenuous argument put forth by charter school foes is the claim they will take money out of other classrooms. That’s precisely right, but finesses the fact education dollars follow the student, and will flow to whatever charter school classroom his or her parents choose.

Opponents also point to studies that conclude charter school performance is very much a mixed bag of over-achievers and laggards compared to regular classrooms. We think Washington educators and parents deserve an opportunity to seek out their own results.

Many among Washington’s 1 million K-12 students will benefit from the alternatives offered by charter schools. I-1240 will give those students and their parents a chance to explore that option at no cost to other students, and about $3 million to the state over five years.

Voters should approve Initiative 1240.


Teachers United Endorses Initiative 1240, the Washington Public Charter Schools Initiative Teachers Group Supports Measure as Effective Approach to Helping Struggling Students

SEATTLE – Teachers United, a young and growing statewide organization of teachers dedicated to improving public education, announced today that it has endorsed Initiative 1240, a measure that will authorize a limited number of public charter schools in Washington State. Teachers United also released a policy position paper summarizing the work and thoughts of their teachers (see attached policy position paper).

In making the announcement, Teachers United executive director Christopher Eide said, “There are tens of thousands of great teachers in this state, and hundreds of thousands of successful students, but with some 14,000 students dropping out of our schools each year, we all have to recognize that traditional public schools simply aren’t working for all students. Authorizing public charter schools will give us another important tool for meeting the needs of these struggling students.”

With Initiative 1240 on the ballot in Washington this fall, the discussion around whether students would benefit from allowing charter schools to operate is taking place statewide. In order to better understand the legislation and the issues surrounding charter schools, a group of Teachers United teachers assembled as a policy team to conduct research and make recommendations both on how schools should adapt to meet the needs of all students and whether I-1240 should be supported.

Beginning in June, this group of teachers dissected the initiative, read eight leading research papers on charter schools and 20 editorial pieces representing various sides of the debate. They interviewed several of the authors of I-1240 as well as national charter school experts from the Center on Reinventing Public Education at the University of Washington-Bothell. Members of this policy team were also part of a group of 13 teachers from Seattle, Tacoma and Bellingham who visited five charter schools and hosted a panel of local education leaders in New Orleans in August.

“We should be for schools that articulate specific, clear visions and can be held accountable for those visions,” said Martin Piccoli, Seattle teacher and member of the policy team. The members of the team emphasized that while traditional methods of public schooling work for many students, individual schools should be able to adapt to the needs of their student population and should be expected to deliver on high expectations set for their students. Public charter schools would have the ability to attract and retain staff members who are aligned with the vision of the school, and let go of those who aren’t. When polled, Teachers United teachers overwhelmingly (95%) believe these concepts are best for students, and most (70%) believe that practice is not currently possible in every school in Washington right now.

Teachers United teachers expect that the 40 schools created under this legislation will exist to primarily serve or at least directly benefit struggling and “at-risk” populations of students; would be transparent with information regarding attrition rates, support for students with special needs, graduation rates, teacher turnover, salaries, and sources of funding; and would fairly recruit students (prioritizing aforementioned populations).

Teachers United is a growing, teacher-led statewide organization of nearly 250 educators united by the belief that all students should have an excellent education and that teachers should have a significant voice in education policy decisions. Many Teachers United teachers are award-winning, National Board Certified, and/or are leaders in the teachers union. For more information, please visit


Charter Success Story: Bronx Charter School Awarded Blue Ribbon by US Department of Education

The Bronx Charter School for Excellence won the distinction of being one of three charter schools in the state to win a National Blue Ribbon Schools Award from the U.S. Department of Education.

BCSE won in the category, “Exemplary High Performing Schools” as opposed to “Exemplary Improving Schools,” though 40% of its students are “disadvantaged,” according to the DOE’s site. Nearly 80% of the students at the Parchester school are eligible for free or reduced lunch.

But on recent state test scores, more than half of all students in grades 3 through 8 scored a Level 3 or 4 on both math and English exams.

“Our literacy program is very strong,” said Charlene Reid, head of BCSE. “By the time they graduate or finish kindergarten, some of our students are reading on first- or second-grade reading levels.”

The school has won top marks (including an ‘A’ on its city report card) after experiencing a few tumultuous years of poor performance after its doors opened in 2004.

“We had cheers and tears, especially since about seven years ago the school was in jeopardy of being closed,” said Reid. “So to have this turnaround and be acknowledged as one of the nation’s best schools, it’s a great story.”

With about 3,000 kids on the waiting list to enter the school, community and education leaders have been clamoring to learn more about the school’s best practices.

BCSE was part of a new collaboration between district and charter schools that kicked off in the Bronx this summer, and allowed different teachers and educators to sit in on professional development workshops.

“I don’t think people understand how hard it is to run a school,” said Reid. “It helps that charter schools are autonomous and held to different standards and high accountability.”

Reid also expressed pride in being the first Bronx charter school to win such a prestigious honor.

“This is just the bigger picture, to transform the Bronx,” she said. “We’ve been telling our kids since they were 5 and 6 years old, ‘you are smart, you are great, you can do anything you want to do.’ And this is the result that you get.”

The U.S. DOE will recognize the 219 public and 50 private schools around the country at a ceremony on Nov. 12 in Washington, D.C.