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Would Innovation Schools be close enough to charters to get federal money (but not close enough to get WEA opposition?)

Post by Peter Callaghan / The News Tribune on Jan. 20, 2010 at 12:24 pm |
January 20, 2010 3:30 pm

Puyallup Democratic Sen. Jim Kastama has introduced a bill he thinks will improve Washington’s chance of winning both federal Race To The Top money and grants for innovation in education.

First, however, he’ll have to convince fellow Democrats that it isn’t really a bill to create charter schools in Washington state.

The bill is Senate Bill 6596. It would create up to 20 “Innovation Partnership Schools” that would be independent of local school districts but would have to be sponsored either by a school district or a state university. Applicants would have to be non-religious non-profits.

“We have a lot of great schools in Washington,” Kastama said in a statement. “We just need a lot more of them.”

Once established, the schools would operate outside the regular rules governing other public schools. They would get their share of state education money and could get local levy money if local voters agreed.

Kastama suggested the schools could dovetail with existing Innovation Partnership Zones – 13 economic development districts across the state aimed at various innovation goals. One is the clean-energy technologies zone in the Tri-Cities.

Jim Spady, the Seattle businessman who was the sponsor of a failed 2000 initiative to allow charter schools in Washington, supports Kastama’s bill.

“The key question is whether the governor will support the substance of this bill as part of her Race to the Top legislative proposal,” Spady wrote via e-mail. “If Washington is to have a realistic chance of winning a RTTT grant, she should.”

The Washington Education Association is not convinced, however, saying Gov. Chris Gregoire‘s package of bills introduced Monday will boost the state’s RTTT chances.

“SB 6596 doesn’t recognize that we already have innovation in our public schools – just look at SOTA or the Science and Math Institute in Tacoma, or the Delta High School School in the Tri-Cities, which focuses on technology and math.” said Rich Wood, spokesman for the teachers union. “Those are great schools, and they represent the kind of community collaboration that’s already possible.”

Wood said voters have rejected charters three times because they “want their local schools boards to oversee their local schools, and they do not support turning their local public schools over to outside corporations.”

Charters are a difficult issue for the state’s RTTT application. Allowing charters is not a requirement but states that do will score much higher. Many other states are either lifting their bans or expanding the numbers of charters allowed in hopes of winning the competition for $4.35 billion in extra stimulus funds.

Some in the education community are hoping that new schools such as Tacoma’s School of the Arts (SOTA) and Aviation High School in the Highline District would look enough like charters to get some credit from the feds. But most think there is no political will for full-blown charters since Initiative 729 failed by a 52-48 vote in 2000.

The two other public votes on charter schools were Initiative 177 in 1996 and Referendum 55 in 2004.

Kastama’s bill has not been set for a hearing.

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