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Charter schools revisited

The charter school movement hasn't had much luck in Washington state, but supporters of the idea have found a friend in the legislature.

Rep. Dave Quall, who spent 30 years as a high school educator, says he knows firsthand the ways public school bureaucracies can hinder innovation and creativity. The competition and the openness that charter schools could bring would "empower the public school teacher," the 61-year-old lawmaker said last week.

"Teachers sometimes have wonderful ideas that are vetoed by the administration," he added. "I see this as an opportunity for the teachers to determine the destiny of the school."

Mr. Quall, a Democrat, is one of the sponsors of a charter school bill scheduled for a House vote this week. It would allow the creation of the publicly funded independent schools, which are now permitted in about half the states.

The legislation grew out of an effort to build bipartisan support for charter schools after Washington voters in November shot down by a 2-to-1 ratio a ballot initiative that would have authorized them. ("Wash. Choice Proposals Go Down to Defeat," Nov. 13, 1996.)

The bill, which would require charter schools to adhere to stricter rules than those proposed by the November initiative, also faces Senate approval.

It would require would-be charter school operators to submit a lengthy application, including a five-year budget plan; to work with local school boards; and to comply with the state's assessment standards and educational reforms. The bill would also limit the number of students in charter schools to 5 percent of a district's total enrollment.

Mr. Quall said a key hurdle has been gaining support from Democrats. His party has traditionally failed to support charter schools in the state, in part because some Democrats fear the schools may take funding and support away from traditional public schools.

But competition will help those schools, not harm them, Mr. Quall believes.

"I like choices--home-schooling, private schools, and religious schools," he said. "That may be unusual for my party, but I think as a Democrat that this is a good issue for us to be involved in."


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