Washington

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Washington

2016
Year Charter School Law Was Enacted
7
Estimated Number of Charter Schools in 2016-17
1,300
Estimated Number of Charter School Students in 2016-17
179
out of
240
Total Score

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Washington’s law allows multiple authorizers via local school districts and a new statewide authorizer, has strong quality control components, gives operational autonomy to charter public schools, and provides equitable operational funding to charter schools. The two major weaknesses of the law include a cap of 40 charter schools during the initial five years that it is in effect and a relatively small number of provisions for supporting charter schools’ facilities needs.

Potential areas for improvement include lifting the state’s cap, ensuring equitable access to capital funding and facilities, and strengthening accountability for full-time virtual charter schools.

Component Scores

Are there caps on the growth of charter schools in this state?

Statute allows a total of 40 charter schools, of which no more than eight may be approved each year during the initial five years, with any unused slots rolling forward.After five years, the State Board of Education and the Washington Charter School Commission must submit a recommendation to the governor, the legislature, and the public at large regarding whether or not the legislature should authorize the establishment of additional schools.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
1A
No numeric or geographic limits are placed on the number of charter public schools or students.
Some
1B
If caps exist, there is room for growth.

Are a variety of charter schools allowed?

Washington law allows new start-ups, but does not allow public school conversions.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
2A
New startups.
No
2B
Public school conversions.

Are non-district authorizers available to which charter applicants may directly apply?

Statute creates the Washington Charter School Commission, to which charter proposals for schools anywhere in the state can be directly submitted. In addition, statute allows any local school board to seek approval to become an authorizer from the state board of education.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
3A
The state allows an applicant anywhere in the state to apply directly to a non-district authorizer(s).

Is an authorizer and overall program accountability system required?

Statute requires local school boards to seek approval from the state board of education prior to becoming an authorizer. State law requires authorizers to submit an annual report to the state board of education that summarizes their authorizing activities as well as the performance of their charter portfolio.

State law makes the state board of education responsible for overseeing the performance and effectiveness of all local school board authorizers via an approval and oversight process detailed in statute. It allows the state board of education to terminate a local school board’s contract to approve schools. The legislature and the governor can remove the ability of the Washington Charter School Commission to continue authorizing (the entities that gave it that authority).

The law requires the state board to submit an annual report that includes details such as the performance of charter schools compared to comparable groups of students in non-charter schools.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
4A
Registration process for school boards to affirm their interest in authorizing.
N/A
4B
Application process for other eligible authorizing entities (except a state charter schools commission).
Yes
4C
Authorizer submission of annual report.
Yes
4D
The ability for the state to conduct a review of an authorizer’s performance.
Yes
4E
The ability for the state to sanction an authorizer for poor performance, including suspending an authorizer’s authority to approve new schools.
Yes
4F
Periodic formal evaluation of overall state charter school program and outcomes.

Is there adequate authorizer funding?

Statute requires the state board of education to establish a statewide formula for an authorizer oversight fee, which is to be calculated as a percentage of the state operating funding provided to charters. It provides that this amount may not be more than 4% and that it may involve a sliding scale that takes into consideration such factors as the number of schools per authorizer and the number of years that an authorizer has been operating. The law requires authorizers to separately account for such fees and report them annually to the state board of education.
Statute allows authorizers to provide separately contracted, fee-based services in addition to their oversight responsibilities, but such fees cannot cost more than market rates and cannot be required as a condition of being approved.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
5A
A uniform statewide formula that guarantees annual authorizer funding that is not subject to annual legislative appropriations.
Yes
5B
Requirement to publicly report detailed authorizer expenditures.
Yes
5C
Separate contract for any services purchased from an authorizer by a school.
Yes
5D
Prohibition on authorizers requiring schools to purchase services from them.

Are there transparent charter application, review, and decisionmaking processes?

Statute requires application elements for all schools and additional elements specific to using educational service providers and replications. Statute requires authorizers to issue requests for proposals and to conduct a thorough evaluation of each application including an in-person interview and public meeting. It also requires authorizers to make all charter approval or denial decisions in a public meeting and to state reasons for denials in writing.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
6A
Application elements for all schools.
No
6B
Additional application elements specific to conversion schools.
Yes
6C
Additional application elements specific to using educational service providers.
Yes
6D
Additional application elements specific to replications.
Yes
6E
Requirement for thorough evaluation of each application, including an in-person interview and a public meeting.
Yes
6F
Application approval criteria.
Yes
6G
All charter approval or denial decisions made in a public meeting with authorizers stating reasons for denials in writing.

Are performance-based charter contracts required?

Statute defines a charter contract to be a fixed term, renewable contract between a charter school board and an authorizer that outlines the roles, powers, responsibilities, and performance expectations for each party. It also requires such contracts to contain a performance framework that details the academic and operational performance indicators.
The initial contract must be granted for a term of five years.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
7A
Being created as a separate document from the application and executed by the governing board of the charter school and the authorizer.
Yes
7B
Defining the roles, powers, and responsibilities for the school and its authorizer.
Yes
7C
Defining academic, financial, and operational performance expectations by which the school will be judged based on a performance framework.
Yes
7D
Providing an initial term of five operating years.

Are there comprehensive charter school monitoring and data collection processes?

State law requires each charter school to publish annually a school performance report. Statute requires that authorizers collect and analyze data to support ongoing evaluation according to the performance framework in the charter contract, including financial accountability.
State law provides authorizers with specific authority to conduct oversight activities needed to fulfill their responsibilities.
Statute requires authorizers to notify their schools of any perceived problems and provide them with reasonable opportunity for the school to remedy the problem.
Statute allows authorizers to take appropriate corrective actions short of revocation as needed.
State law specifies that oversight activities (including data collection requests) may not unduly inhibit the autonomy granted to charter schools.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
8A
Required annual school performance reports.
Yes
8B
Financial accountability for charter schools (e.g., generally accepted accounting principles, independent annual audit reported to authorizer).
Yes
8C
Authorizer authority to conduct oversight activities.
Yes
8D
Authorizer notification to its schools of perceived problems, with opportunities to remedy such problems.
Yes
8E
Authorizer authority to take appropriate corrective actions or exercise sanctions short of revocation.
No
8F
Authorizer may not request duplicative data submission from its charter schools and may not use performance framework to create cumbersome reporting requirements.

Are there clear processes for renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions?

Statute requires authorizers to issue school performance renewal reports and requires schools seeking renewal to apply for it using renewal application guidance provided by the authorizer.
State law requires authorizers to have clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal decisions and to base decisions on evidence in accordance with the performance framework set forth in the charter contract. Statute notes that a given charter may not be renewed if, at the time of the renewal application, the school’s performance falls in the bottom quartile of schools on the state’s accountability index unless the school demonstrates exceptional circumstances that the authorizer finds justifiable.

Statute requires charter contract renewals to be for five-year terms, although it allows the authorizer to vary the terms based on the particular circumstances of a charter school.

State law requires authorizers to provide schools with timely notification of potential revocation and due process, including the requirement to conduct a public hearing. It requires all charter renewal, non-renewal, and revocation decisions be made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for non-renewals and revocations in writing.

Statute requires authorizers to develop a charter school termination protocol to ensure timely notification to parents, orderly transition of students and student records, and proper disposition of public funds, property, and assets.

The law provides that a charter contract may not be transferred from one authorizer to another or from one charter school to another before the expiration of the charter contract term except by petition to the state board of education by the charter school or its authorizer. The state board of education must review such petitions on a case-by-case basis and may grant transfer requests in response to special circumstances and evidence that such a transfer would serve the best interests of the charter school's students.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
9A
Authorizer must issue school performance renewal reports to schools whose charter will expire the following year.
Yes
9B
Schools seeking renewal must apply for it.
Yes
9C
Authorizers must issue renewal application guidance that provides an opportunity for schools to augment their performance record and discuss improvements and future plans.
No
9D
Ability to have a differentiated process for renewal of high-performing charter schools.
Yes
9E
Authorizers must use clear criteria for renewal and nonrenewal/revocation.
Yes
9F
Authorizers must ground renewal decisions based on evidence regarding the school’s performance over the term of the charter contract in accordance with the performance framework set forth in the charter contract.
No
9G
Requirement that authorizers close chronically low-performing charter schools unless exceptional circumstances exist.
Yes
9H
Authorizers must have the authority to vary length of charter renewal contract terms based on performance or other issues.
Yes
9I
Authorizers must provide charter schools with timely notification of potential revocation or nonrenewal (including reasons) and reasonable time to respond.
Yes
9J
Authorizers must provide charter schools with due process for nonrenewal and revocation decisions (e.g., public hearing, submission of evidence).
Yes
9K
All charter renewal, nonrenewal, and revocation decisions must be made in a public meeting, with authorizers stating reasons for nonrenewals and revocations in writing.
Yes
9L
Authorizers must have school closure protocols to ensure timely parent notification, orderly student and record transitions, and property and asset disposition.
Yes
9M
Any transfer of charter contracts from one authorizer to another are only allowed if they are approved by the state.

Is there transparency regarding educational service providers?

Washington statute allows for educational service providers (ESPs) to provide substantial educational services, management services, or both, but specifically states that these must be non-profit entities. For those schools proposing to use such ESPs, state law requires them to include in their charter application evidence of the ESP’s success in serving student populations similar to their targeted population and evidence of past performance and their capacity for growth.
Within their application, statute requires them to provide a term sheet setting forth the proposed duration of the service contract, including things like the roles and responsibilities of the school board and the service provider, the scope of services, the performance evaluation measures and timelines, the compensation structure, the methods of contract oversight and performance, and the conditions for renewal and termination of the contract.
Statute provides that school governing boards operate as entities completely independent of any educational service provider. Statute also requires applications to disclose and explain any existing or potential conflicts of interest between the charter school board and the proposed service provider, but it does not specifically prohibit individuals compensated by an ESP from serving on the board, now provide governing boards with access to ESP records and funding reports..
Public charter schools are subject to the Public Records Act. Public record is very broadly defined to include “any writing containing information relating to the conduct of government or the performance of any governmental or proprietary function prepared, owned, used, or retained by any state or local agency regardless of physical form or characteristics.” ESP records related to the oversight of the ESP contract would meet definition of public record and thus the school would have access via the Public Records Act.
The background check law made applicable to charter schools requires that any employees who will have regularly schedule unsupervised access to children are subject to criminal history record check and fingerprinting.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
10A
All types of educational service providers (both for-profit and nonprofit) are allowed to operate all or parts of schools.
Yes
10B
The charter application requires (1) performance data for all current and past schools operated by the ESP, and (2) explanation and evidence of the ESP’s capacity for successful growth while maintaining quality in existing schools.
Yes
10C
A performance contract is required between the independent charter school board and the ESP, with such contract approved by the school’s authorizer.
Some
10D
School governing boards operate as entities completely independent of any ESP, individuals compensated by an ESP are prohibited from serving as voting members on such boards, and existing and potential conflicts of interest between the two entities are required to be disclosed and explained in the charter application.
Some
10E
Provides that charter school governing boards must have access to ESP records necessary to oversee the ESP contract.
Some
10F
An ESP must annually provide information to its charter school governing board on how that ESP spends public funding it receives when the ESP is performing a public function under applicable state law.
Some
10G
Requires that similar criminal history record checks and fingerprinting requirements applicable to other public schools shall also be mandatory for on-site employees of ESPs who regularly come into contact with students.

Are the schools fiscally and legally autonomous with independent charter school boards?

Statute describes charter schools as independently managed public schools operated by qualified nonprofit organizations. It provides that such schools are governed by a board of directors appointed or selected under the terms of their charter application. It states that such boards have clear statutory authority to operate a fiscally and legally autonomous school, including things like receiving and disbursing funds and entering into contracts.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
11A
Fiscally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to receive and disburse funds; incur debt; and pledge, assign, or encumber assets as collateral).
Yes
11B
Legally autonomous schools (e.g., schools have clear statutory authority to enter into contracts and leases, sue and be sued in their own names, and acquire real property).
Yes
11C
Independent school governing boards created specifically to govern their charter schools.

Are there clear student enrollment and lottery procedures?

Washington law provides that charter schools are open to all students. Schools must comply with all nondiscrimination laws applicable to school districts. The law notes that a lottery is used only if capacity is insufficient to enroll all students who apply to a charter school. Prior-year students do not apply or re-apply to a school each year and thus do not participate in the lottery and so would not need a preference. These students remain enrolled from year to year.
The law requires all charter schools to give enrollment preference to siblings of already enrolled students and allows weighted preferences for at-risk students and children of full-time employees.
Washington law provides that students must be selected by lottery if more students apply than a school can accommodate.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
12A
Open enrollment to any student in the state.
Yes
12B
Anti-discrimination provisions regarding admissions.
Yes
12C
Required enrollment preferences for previously enrolled students within conversions and for prior-year students within charter schools.
Yes
12D
Lottery requirements.

Is there automatic exemption from many state and district laws and regulations?

Statute indicates that charter schools must comply with all state statutes and rules made applicable to the charter school in the schools’ charter contract and are subject only to the specific state statutes and rules identified in the charter law. It states that such schools are not subject to and are exempt from all other state statutes and rules applicable to school districts and school district boards. It also provides that they are also exempt from all school district policies except those made applicable in the school’s charter contract.
Charter schools are not exempt from the state teacher certification requirements, except they may hire non-certificated instructional staff of unusual competence and in exceptional cases.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
13A
Exemptions from all laws, except those covering health, safety, civil rights, student accountability, employee criminal history checks, open meetings, freedom of information, and generally accepted accounting principles.
Some
13B
Exemption from state teacher certification requirements.

Is there an automatic collective bargaining exemption?

State law provides that charter schools are exempt from participation in any outside collective bargaining agreements. Statute indicates that any bargaining units established at a charter school must be limited to employees working in the school and must be separate from other bargaining units in school districts, educational service districts, or institutions of higher education.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
14A
Charter schools authorized by nonlocal board authorizers are exempt from participation in any outside collective bargaining agreements.
Yes
14B
Charter schools authorized by local boards are exempt from participation in any district collective bargaining agreements.

Are multischool charter contracts and/or multicharter contract boards allowed?

Statute provides that a single charter contract may govern one or more charter schools and that a single charter school board may hold one or more charter contracts. It also provides that each school must be separate and distinct from any others and must report its performance as separate schools, being held independently accountable for its performance.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
15A
Oversee multiple schools linked under a single contract with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.
Yes
15B
Hold multiple charter contracts with independent fiscal and academic accountability for each school.

Is there eligibility and access to extracurricular and interscholastic activities?

Statute notes that a charter school is eligible for state or district-sponsored interscholastic programs, awards, scholarships, or competitions to the same extent as other public schools. Statute explicitly states that the eligibility of a charter school student to participate in interscholastic activities is governed by the same oversight organization and subject to the same rules as students in traditional public schools. These rules allow for a charter school student in a charter school without athletics to participate at the resident public schools that the student would otherwise attend.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
16A
Laws or regulations explicitly state that charter school students and employees are eligible to participate in all extracurricular and interscholastic activities available to noncharter public school students and employees.
Yes
16B
Laws or regulations explicitly allow charter school students in schools not providing extracurricular and interscholastic activities to have access to those activities at noncharter public schools.

Is there clear identification of special education responsibilities?

Statute notes that charter schools function as a local education agency and are responsible for meeting the requirements related to individuals with disabilities. The law notes generally addresses supplemental funding for all students with disabilities. The law provides that charter schools have access to the same special education “safety net” funding for low-incident, high-cost service as do traditional public schools.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
17A
Clarity regarding which entity is the local education agency (LEA) responsible for providing special education services.
Yes
17B
Clarity regarding the flow of federal, state, and local special education funds to the designated LEA.
Yes
17C
Clarity regarding funding for low-incident, high-cost services for charter schools (in the same amount and/or in a manner similar to other LEAs).
No
17D
Clarity that charter schools have access to all regional and state services and supports available to traditional districts.

Is there equitable operational funding and equal access to all state and federal categorical funding?

While it appears that this law has many of the model law components related to equitable operational and categorical funding, there is no evidence yet of the actual level of equity.
Statute provides that the legislature must appropriate funding from the Washington opportunity pathways account (funded from the state lottery) for charter schools in accordance with the provisions of the charter school law, with the legislative intent that such funding should be distributed equitably with state funding provided for other public schools.

The law requires the state superintendent to transmit to each charter school an amount based on the statewide average staff mix factor for certificated instructional staff, including all categorical programs and supplemental instruction and services, as well as any enrichment to those statutory formulae as specified in the appropriations act.

Statute requires that distributions for pupil transportation is to be calculated on a per student basis based on the allocation for the previous school year to the school district in which the charter school is located.

As part of its annual report on charter schools, the law requires the state board to assess the successes, challenges, and areas for improvement in meeting the purposes of this chapter, including the board's assessment of the sufficiency of funding for charter schools, the efficacy of the formula for authorizer funding, and any suggested changes in state law or policy necessary to strengthen the state's charter schools.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Some
18A
Equitable operational funding statutorily driven.
Yes
18B
Equal access to all applicable categorical federal and state funding and clear guidance on the pass-through of such funds.
Yes
18C
Funding for transportation similar to school districts.
Yes
18D
Annual report offering district and charter school funding comparisons and including annual recommendations to the legislature for any needed equity enhancements.

Is there equitable access to capital funding and facilities?

Washington law contains a small number of the model law’s provisions for equitable access to capital funding and facilities.
Statute provides that charter schools are eligible for state funds school construction.

It also provides that charter schools have the right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed public school facility or property or any unused portions located in a school district from which it draws its students if the district decides to sell or lease such facility or property. The law also notes that a charter school may negotiate and contract with various entities for the use of a facilities at fair market rent and that various entities can provide space to charter schools within their facilities under their preexisting zoning and land use designations.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Facilities Funding
No
19A
A per-pupil facilities allowance that annually reflects actual average district capital costs.
No
19B
A state grant program for charter school facilities.
Yes
19C
Equal access to existing state facilities programs available to noncharter public schools.
Access to Public Space
No
19D
A requirement for districts to provide school district space or funding to charter schools if the majority of that schools’ students reside in that district.
Yes
19E
Right of first refusal to purchase or lease at or below fair market value a closed, unused, or underused public school facility or property.
Access to Financing Tools
No
19F
A state loan program for charter school facilities.
No
19G
Equal access to tax-exempt bonding authorities or allowing charter schools to have their own bonding authority
No
19H
Pledging the moral obligation of the state to help charter schools obtain more favorable bond financing terms.
No
19I
The creation and funding of a state charter school debt reserve fund.
No
19J
The inclusion of charter schools in school district bonding and mill levy requests.
No
19K
A mechanism to provide credit enhancement for charter school facilities.
Other
Yes
19L
Charter schools allowed to contract at or below fair market value with a school district, a college or university, or any other public or for-profit or nonprofit private entity for the use of facility for a school building.
Yes
19M
Certain entities allowed to provide space to charter schools within their facilities under their preexisting zoning and land use designations.
No
19N
Charter school facilities exempt from ad valorem taxes and other assessment fees not applicable to other public schools.

Is there access to relevant employee retirement systems?

Statute includes charter schools as members of relevant state retirement and health care systems as long as the state department of retirement systems receives determinations from the Internal Revenue Service and the U.S. Department of Labor that such participation does not jeopardize the status of the state’s retirement systems.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
Yes
20A
Charter schools have access to relevant state retirement systems available to other public schools.
No
20B
Charter schools have the option to participate (i.e., not required).

Are there provisions for full-time virtual charter schools?

Washington law does not contain any of the model law’s provisions for full-time virtual charter schools.

Subcomponents

Key
Yes
Some
No
No
21A
An authorizing structure whereby full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from more than one district may be approved only by an authorizer with statewide chartering jurisdiction and authority, full-time virtual charter schools that serve students from one school district may be authorized by that school district, and a cap is placed on the total amount of funding that an authorizer may withhold from a full-time virtual charter school.
No
21B
Legally permissible criteria and processes for enrollment based on the existence of supports needed for student success.
No
21C
Enrollment level provisions that establish maximum enrollment levels for each year of a charter contract, with any increases in enrollment from one year to the next based on whether the school meets its performance requirements.
No
21D
Accountability provisions that include virtual-specific goals regarding student enrollment, attendance, engagement, achievement, truancy, and attrition.
No
21E
Funding levels per student based on costs proposed and justified by the operators.
No
21F
Performance-based funding whereby full-time virtual charter schools are funded via a performance-based funding system based on meeting the accountability performance provisions.