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Who Applied for Charters in Washington?

Washington’s new charter school law is presenting a rare opportunity for us to see who is willing to invest in a fresh charter school market. Signs indicate that although interest is primarily local, plenty of non-local charter operators will take a leap of faith, even in a market that remains a strongly contested legal issue.

Despite legal wranglings and protests, 22 Washington applicants submitted their paperwork for the first round of charter approvals in state history. This number is down slightly from the 31 organizations who submitted LOIs in October, but given the resistance Washington’s charter law has received it’s no surprise that a few parties might have backed out. Some of those October LOIs were for 2015, so they could just be waiting.

When final approval or denial comes around in February 2014, only 8 of those 22 applicants will be left standing.

In a statement from interim CEO of the Washington State Charter Schools Association (WSCSA), Marta Reyes-Newberry:

“We are thrilled to see that 21 prospective public charter school founders have applied for just eight opportunities to open high-quality charter schools. This is tremendous interest in just this first year.”

Ignore the numerical discrepancy in the quote (there are several ways to ‘count’ charter schools), the important thing is that Washingtonians are seeing almost three times the amount of charter school applications as there are spots available.

But some are asking a question: “Who’s applying and where are the apps coming from?”

Washington’s statewide authorizer, the Charter School Commission, received 18 applications of these applications, while one local authorizer, Spokane Public Schools, received three. This ratio is unsurprising since statewide authorizers tend to approve charters when local districts do not, but what’s curious is that two of the three Spokane applications are from organizations in California: Academy of Arts and Sciences and iLead. Usually local districts get local apps, but here’s a clear example to the contrary.

WSCSA was particularly excited by the arrival of two CMOs, Green Dot and Summit, both out of California. Green Dot is known for its Los Angeles area middle schools and high schools, and according to the charter group, Summit is “ranked consistently as having one of the top high school programs in the country. To date, nearly 100 percent of Summit graduates have been accepted to one or more four-year colleges and universities.” That’s actually higher than Green Dot’s cited graduation rate of 90%, but Green Dot has a much larger network to oversee and has traditionally targeted a very challenging market.

Regardless of their expertise, these high-profile organizations are anything but local. In fact, of the 22 applications, 8 of them were submitted by out-of-state organizations, and all but 2 of those came from California.

This highlights an emerging fault line in the charter school movement: How do we manage interstate mobilization?

Interstate mobilization took a while to appear, but now it’s in full force. As NAPCS hops from state to state, assisting with legislative issues and trumpeting victories wherever they occur, we’re left with the impression that ed reform is a much more organized revolution than it was in the 1990s or even the 2000s. It seems every year a new state drafts a fresh charter law or a significant amendment to an existing one. Charter schools and voucher programs are all over the news, when 5 years ago few Americans even knew what either of those were. In short, it’s difficult to insulate yourself from ed reform anymore. It’s here in a very big way, and led by a select few.

As for California’s investment in Washington, it could serve as a valuable example for some other interstate relationships. New York’s law, which the NAPCS ranks at 8th in the country, could be extended to New Jersey, which is currently ranked 29th. While you’re at it, head across town to Connecticut and ask them about their enrollment cap restrictions… Florida could call up Montgomery and offer a few pointers on both statewide authorization and even the scholarship tax credit program that Alabama has already implemented. Louisiana could chat with Mississippi about its long-term charter cap over a table of shrimp, and Colorado could share a few craft beers with the entire north central part of the country, which contains four states with no charter school law at all. Something productive would emerge from every one of these conversations.

However, “organized” can also be construed as “meddlesome.” Interstate mobilization raises a concern among grassrooters who feel that their seemingly local revolution is being hijacked by outsiders. This creates conflict where we need collaboration. Compounded with the fact that the press is already on the warpath against school choice, a reformist’s mission suddenly appears hostile.

Some of our most intuitive supporters end up pretty confused by all this. Any budding interest in “school choice” by autonomy-loving Tea Partiers encounters a roadblock when they realize that charter schools are supported by establishment Republicans, many Common Core Democrats, and is part of the federal DOE’s long-term agenda. Inner-city minority families are totally on board with charter schools until they’re told that local District teachers will lose their jobs and some non-local EMO will profit off their kids.

In this frenetic pace toward a complete overhaul of the K-12 system, we can lose track of the core mission. This whole process of chartering schools and issuing tax credit scholarships isn’t about who drives it, but who it helps in the end…namely, students.

That’s the one thing we can’t lose sight of, and even if a few turf wars take place, the only thing that matters is that the school performs its contracted duty. Do that, and everyone should be happy, even the people who hate us (lookin’ at you, Diane).


Below is a list of the apps that were recently submitted in Washington, collected by Parasa Chanramy Stand for Children Washington.



Grays Harbor, Mason, and Thurston Counties


Joint Base Lewis-McChord









A helpful map of the charter school applicants can be found here.


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