Work on WA charter schools begins, though they may not be an option for next school year

While Washington voters have spoken about charter schools, it appears unlikely that the new independent public schools will be an option at the beginning of the next academic year.

Voters narrowly approved Initiative 1240 earlier this month, but opening charter schools by 2013 would require many things to happen quickly – and there’s a strong possibility the state’s top education officer will sue to block them.

First the state Board of Education has to figure out the next steps. The board has until March 6 to adopt rules to govern most aspects of charter schools in Washington. A board spokesman said that schedule is tight, so people shouldn’t expect them to beat their deadline.

Next on the agenda, the new Washington Charter School Commission will be formed and begin its work. The independent state agency created by the initiative will be authorizing and supervising the new entities.

People who want to open a charter school in Washington will need to wait for the commission to get settled before they open the application process. It’s not known how long the application process will take – since the rules have not been written – but the process in New York state, for example, takes about four months from the initial filing to final approval.

The new law would open as many as 40 charter schools over five years.

One significant hurdle is Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn, who says he may sue to stop the initiative from establishing a parallel department of education. He says I-1240 was unconstitutional because it would set up a separate school system with a board that isn’t elected by the people.

He has talked to the attorney general’s office and state lawmakers about his concerns and hopes the Legislature will find a way to fix the new law, but is willing to bring a constitutional challenge all the way to the Washington Supreme Court, if necessary. (AP)

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