SPOKANE, Wash. - Charter schools in the state of Washington are still in their infancy, having only been approved by voters back in 2012. But they haven't been without controversy, meeting with opposition from the state's teachers union.
Charter schools are public schools that receive public funding, but are operated independently. They are authorized by the state or in Spokane, by the school district and are funded based on student count.
In Spokane there are currently two charter schools, Spokane International Academy and Pride Prep that between the two of them have 820 students. At Spokane International Academy there are currently 350 students on a wait list and at Pride Prep there are 110.
Charter schools have become a choice for parents looking for a more tailored approach to their child's education with more engagement. They have also become an option for students not thriving in traditional public schools, especially if they are struggling in the areas of math or reading.
"Our teachers are able to go in and target those topics," said Travis Franklin, CEO of Spokane International Academy, "and have a focus around the growth students need individually."
The CEO of the Washington State Charter School's Association, Patrick D'Amelio, says one of the purposes of charter schools is serving students with special needs or who have come out of poverty, in addition to other under-served populations.
In the latest academic testing cycle two examples of success with those students include at Pride Prep students receiving special education services were four times more likely to math proficient, when compared to the statewide average. At Spokane International Academy 6th graders identifying as two or more races were 11 percent more likely to be proficient in math.
Increases were similar in reading standards as well.
"We have had sixth grade students who came to a charter school reading at a kindergarten level and are catching up two and three and four years of reading levels in the matter of one academic year," said D'Amelio.
Franklin says charter schools in Spokane are about providing more choices to parents, not about going head to head with traditional public schools.
"Its not about competition with districts," said Franklin. "Its not to create an environment of us vs. them. Its about being a collaborative unit."
Charter schools are tuition free and don't have academic standards to enroll. If there are more students wanting to enroll than seats in a class, admittance is based off a lottery.
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