Charter schools aren’t coming to the Yakima Valley soon, but the process and its outcome should prove edifying to both supporters and proponents of the concept.
The state Charter School Commission last month approved seven applications, the first submitted under the tenets of the ballot initiative that voters approved in 2012. The nine-member commission rejected two proposals from the Yakima Valley and provided useful information as it spelled out why the schools failed to pass muster this time around.
Sunnyside Charter Academy, proposed by the nonprofit Charter Schools of Sunnyside, did impress evaluators with an educational plan that featured heavy parental involvement. But financial issues ultimately worked too strongly against it; the nonprofit’s plan to raise $1.6 million fell through, and supporters inexplicably moved up the proposed opening date to this year rather than 2015.
Academic plans and distance proved to be the weaknesses in a second proposal, in which Texas-based Por Vida sought to set up the Yakima Academy. Por Vida proposed a preschool-through-12th-grade institution that targeted at-risk students, and it cited its experience in running similar programs in the Lone Star State. Evaluators liked the instructional plans for high school-age students, but they saw an underdeveloped plan for the lower grade levels. There is also a weak academic record in the Texas schools, and the commission expressed concern that having the Texas-based board meet with the one Yakima member by teleconferencing could run afoul of the state’s open meeting laws.
In addition to the state commission, the Spokane School District in January chartered one school, which brings the statewide total to eight. The state commission rejected 12 applications but encouraged the applicants to refine their proposals and come back again.
The entities seeking local schools know what to do. The Sunnyside group must firm up its financial plan, while the Texas nonprofit must work on its overal academic record, develop a plan for lower grades and improve greater transparency with its board. The distance can be overcome; the state commission did approve three schools run by California charter organizations.
The charter school measure didn’t come into this state without a fight — approval came on the fourth try at the ballot box and only narrowly — and many critics are still fighting it. But it’s a tightly drawn proposal, allowing only eight new schools per year for each of the first five years, and the commission showed it is performing due diligence in evaluating the plans.
All in all, the state displayed pragmatism and conscientiousness in its first go-around with charter schools. The applicants can learn from their experience, and one can say that the commission proved the process is more than just an academic exercise.
• Members of the Yakima Herald-Republic editorial board are Sharon J. Prill, Bob Crider, Frank Purdy and Karen Troianello.