Washington Business Winter 2016 - Page 46

business backgrounder | education & workforce Charting a Course on Public Charter Schools As two opposing views and the state Supreme Court collide on the merits and constitutionality of voter-approved public charter schools, the path forward on the issues of school choice and educational equity is bound to be challenging. Bobbi Cussins On Sept. 4, the Friday before the Labor Day holiday and, for many students, the start of the new school year, the state Supreme Court dropped a bombshell. It handed down a 6-3 ruling striking down voter-approved public charter schools as unconstitutional, leaving more than 1,200 students enrolled in the nine newly-opened schools hanging in the balance. The political differences on school choice and how to close the educational equity gap for low-income and minority students sets the stage for a prickly debate on the value of public charter schools versus traditional public schools in the 2016 Legislature and the state’s high court. The news could not have been worse for parents of the 1,200 children enrolled in the state’s first-ever nine public charter schools this fall: The state Supreme Court ruled the law that allowed for the creation of the schools unconstitutional — at 4 p.m. the Friday before Labor Day and the start of the 2015 school year for many students. Making matters worse is the data that shows the majority of parents moving their kids from traditional public schools to the new public charter schools are from underserved low-income and minority communities. public charter school student population According to the Washington State Charter Schools Association (WSCSA), 70 percent of those attending the schools are students of color and two-thirds of the children live in poverty. Maggie O’Sullivan, school leader at Highline area Rainier Prep Public Charter School, which serves fifth- to eighth-grade students, said the population at the school is mainly low-income children, 80 percent of whom qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, and 90 percent are students of color. “There are clearly identifiable achievement gaps by income, race, and ethnicity, and by disability status,” said Washington State Charter Schools 46 association of washington business Hundreds of public charter school students rallied at the state Capitol in November, calling for lawmakers to “fix this mess” to ensure that their schools can stay open.