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Washington Charter Schools Find Another Source Of Public Money

Families at Rainier Prep, a charter school, at a work party last summer.
KUOW Photo/Ann Dornfeld
Families at Rainier Prep, a charter school, at a work party last summer. The state supreme court ruled charter schools are unconstitutional as this school year started.

Washington state’s charter schools are about to lose state funding, so they’re exploring an option that might allow them to stay open.

Charter schools that could find host public school districts could contract as Alternative Learning Experience providers for the districts – even if that host district is across the state. School districts in Washington already offer these alternative programs, typically online learning.

Washington State Charter Schools Association spokeswoman Maggie Meyers said that becoming alternative programs could be a stop-gap measure for charters after they lose funding later this month.

"The ALE pathway allows charters to remain public and open while the Legislature works on a permanent fix," Meyers said. Her organization has been working with the state schools office in Olympia to ensure the funding model would apply.

Charters have a prospective host in the tiny Mary Walker School District north of Spokane.

The superintendent there, Kevin Jacka, knows the state's charter schools well. Jacka had been a part of the Washington State Charter Schools Commission until he resigned on Tuesday.

Jacka gave no reason for stepping down in his resignation letter, although Joshua Halsey, the commission’s executive director, said other commissioners plan to do the same after the agency wraps up its work.

Dierk Meierbachtol, of the state schools office, said the state has been working with charters to keep their doors open – despite Superintendent Randy Dorn's longtime opposition to publicly-funded, privately-run schools. They want to keep the charter schools open rather than disrupt student learning by shutting them midyear.

"We want them to continue to be able to go to school with their peers, get the support that they’re currently getting from their teachers, and be confident that that’s going to last through the end of this school year," Meierbachtol said.

No agreements have been formalized to allow charters to join school districts.

The state Supreme Court ruled in September that charter schools are unconstitutional because they are governed by appointed, rather than elected, boards.

A final court ruling to cut off funding to the schools is expected by Dec. 10.

Charters and their supporters have examined many ways to remain open, at least until the end of the school year, including by becoming private schools.

Year started with KUOW: 2008