Seattle should work with, not fight, charter schools

If Seattle wants to control charter schools coming into the district, it should become a charter-school authorizer, like Spokane Public Schools.

Since Washington voters decided in 2012 to give charter schools a try, the Seattle school board has been fighting to stop them from offering an alternative public-school experience to Seattle parents.

The latest salvo in that battle — a vote last week to oppose a proposed zoning change to allow a new charter high school to open in south Seattle — looks like another desperate move by an organization fighting change.

Seattle Public Schools opposes charter schools, officials say, because the district will lose students, and therefore state funding, if parents choose to send their children to these alternative schools.

Those concerns are well founded. Seattle has struggled to improve three south-end high schools but has made some progress toward that goal. New competition from a nearby charter high school could complicate those efforts at progress. Too bad Seattle didn’t make a different choice when charter schools were first starting in Washington state.

Instead of fighting the innovative new schools at every turn, Seattle Public Schools should have taken a page from the Spokane School District plan and worked with charter schools to provide quality options for students.

By becoming a charter-school authorizer, like Spokane, Seattle could have retained control of what kind of new schools could open within its boundaries, decided where they would be located and actively sought the kind of change district officials wanted to embrace.

Ultimately, the city of Seattle will decide whether the Green Dot charter-school network will get the zoning variance to build a three-story, 58,000-square-foot high school within a few miles of Rainier Beach High School. That proposal has other issues, such as the way public and private dollars are commingling to build housing and community spaces. But the main concern should be how can Seattle provide the best education for all of its youth.

Seattle School Board members should focus their energy looking for ways to keep improving Seattle schools, rather than blocking charter schools that some parents would like their children to try.

Parents have a right to vote with their feet and send their children to whatever school best meets their needs, from the public school down the block, to a private school miles away or a new charter…

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