WENATCHEE - In the wake of a newly-formed group’s plans to open the Wenatchee Valley’s first-ever charter school, iFIBER ONE News is taking an in-depth look at the charter school system in Washington state with a series we are calling Charter School 101.

This week, our series continues with a focus on the charter system’s oversight and funding structure.

Similar to the modeling of a traditional school district, each charter institution is locally governed by its own board of directors, and that non-profit panel and the school they oversee are both held accountable to the same standards as the public system by the office of the state superintendent.

In addition to these regulations, charter schools in Washington are also beholden to a separate entity of oversight as well.

“There’s a specific charter commission that reviews the applications (for charter schools) and they come back and also review on an annual basis,” explained the Wenatchee charter school group’s co-founder Sara Rolfs. “They don’t just look at the standardized test assessments, but they come in and do an audit.”

“Charter schools are given a little bit more freedom around curriculum,” said fellow co-founder Rick Wray. “All students have to take the exact same set of standardized tests that all public school students take, but in exchange for some of this flexibility they are held more accountable from an operational perspective, from a fiscal and financial perspective and then also an academic achievement and academic growth perspective, so there’s a little bit of give and take.”

On top of simply having these non-public performance standards, charter schools in Washington are also subject to forcible closure if they fail in achieving them.

“The charter application is accepted for five years and then you have to apply to renew,” detailed Rolfs. “So, you can actually be shut down prior to that, but every five years you have to re-justify what you’re doing and that you’re meeting your goals in growth and assessments.”

The state’s charter schools can also essentially go out of business, if enrollment can’t provide enough money to maintain its continuing operation, and there are also restrictions about how such schools are able to raise funding as well.

“Charter schools under the current law are not allowed to access any local bond or levy dollars,” detailed Wray. “So, that does require the non-profit charter school to go out and do some of their own development and fundraising efforts to support what traditional levies support in district schools.”

“But from a per pupil tax perspective, the per-pupil tax allocation does follow students as they move from school to school. So, that does give us the foundation and the basis to support the school financially.”

In our next installment of Charter Schools 101, we’ll take a closer look at the proposed staffing and classroom structuring for Wenatchee’s first ever charter school.

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