At long last, the Yakima Valley this evening will get a peek at what a charter school might entail. We begin with “at long last” because Washington state has been slow to implement one tool that could expand educational opportunities for our students. After rejecting charter schools three times previously, the state’s voters approved the concept in 2012 when they ratified Initiative 1240 — and thus Washington joined 41 states and the District of Columbia in legalizing the schools.
A charter school is a public school that is open to all students but operates independently of district management and administrative rules. The initiative called for the creation of the Washington State Charter School Commission, which will sift through the applications for setting up the schools. The board will gather at Perry Technical Institute today for a public forum to hear two proposals for the schools in the Yakima Valley.
At 5:30 p.m., the superintendent of a Texas-based education nonprofit will talk about his planned Por Vida proposal that is patterned after his existing programs in the Lone Star State. Por Vida, which means “for life” in Spanish, targets at-risk students in districts with similar demographics to those in the Valley. The program would open next school year.
Then at 6:30 p.m., advocates for Sunnyside Charter Academy will make their presentation; the Sunnyside school wouldn’t open until the 2015-16 school year. An informational meeting in September attracted about 50 people.
These two are among 22 proposals that will be considered by the nine-member state commission, whose members were appointed by legislative leaders and Gov. Jay Inslee. The tightly drawn initiative limits the number of new charter schools to eight each year up to a total of 40 in the next five years.
Different motivations drive the local proposals. The Por Vida schools reflect a sense that public schools are not adequately educating students for whom English is a second language. The Sunnyside effort stems from a parent whose concern about local schools prompted her to home-school her children.
Charter schools are not a cure-all, and their success requires constant oversight by the state commission. The architects of Initiative 1240 recognized problems in other states when they drafted the measure, which is limited in scope and includes a number of accountability measures. But charters can be laboratories for innovation in public education. This evening, Valley residents have a chance to see what kind of innovation the two local proposals could entail.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.