Public Charter Schools Frequently Asked Questions
Updated: October 2014
RCW 28A.710.010 (Initiative Measure No. 1240, approved November 6, 2012)defines a “charter school” or “public charter school” as “a public school governed by a charter school board and operated according to the terms of a charter school contract.” A charter contract is “a fixed-term, renewable contract between a charter school and an authorizer that specifies the roles, powers, responsibilities, and performance expectations for each party to the contract. “ The charter contract sets forth the academic and operational performance measures by which the charter school will be judged and the administrative relationship between the authorizer and the school. A public charter school may be a conversion charters school, in which an existing non-charter public school is converted to a charter school, or a new charter school.
Washington was the 42nd state to enact a law authorizing the establishment of public charter schools. Minnesota was the first, in 1991.
Under Washington law, a charter applicant must be a nonprofit corporation. The nonprofit corporation must be either a public benefit corporation as defined in RCW 24.03.490 or a nonprofit corporation as defined in RCW 24.03.005 that has applied for tax exempt status under Sec. 501(c)(3) of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service Code.
An authorizer is an entity with the powers and duties to review, approve or reject charter school applications; enter into, renew or revoke charter contracts with nonprofit corporations seeking to operate charter schools, and oversee the charter schools the entity has authorized. Eligible authorizers are:
As of this date, Spokane School District is the single school district to have been approved as a charter authorizer by the State Board of Education. Spokane has approved two charter schools to operate in the district, both scheduled for opening in fall 2015.
No. RCW 28A.710.010 specifically provides that the nonprofit corporation may not be a sectarian or religious organization and must meet all of the requirements for a public benefit corporation as defined in law before it may receive any funding under the charter school law. RCW 28A.710.040 further provides that no charter school may engage in any sectarian practices in its educational program, admissions or employment policies, or operations.
RCW 28A.710.020 provides that a charter school is a public, common school open to all children free of charge. A charter school may not limit admission on any basis other than age group, grade level, or capacity and must enroll all students who apply within these bases. An authorizer may not restrict admission to a charter school to students residing within the boundaries of the district in which the school is located. (RCW 28A.710.050.)
Yes. RCW 28A.710.020 provides that a Washington charter school functions as a local education agency (LEA, i.e., a school district) under applicable federal laws and regulations and is responsible for meeting the requirements of local education agencies and public schools under those federal laws and regulations, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement (IDEA) act, the federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act, and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, also known as the No Child Left Behind Act). As noted above, a charter school may not discriminate in its admissions policies and practices against students with special needs. In addition, RCW 28A.710.130 provides that a charter school application must describe thoroughly the school’s plans for identifying, successfully serving, and complying with applicable laws and regulations regarding students with disabilities, students who are limited English proficient, students who are struggling academically, and highly capable students.
No. RCW 28A.710.050 provides that a charter school may not charge tuition, but may charge fees for participation in optional extracurricular activities, to the same extent as other public schools.
Chapter 28A.710 RCW assigns duties to the SBE for implementation and oversight of the charter school law, including:
The Washington Charter School Commission is an authorizer of charter schools; the State Board of Education is not. The SBE’s role, beyond setting in place regulatory procedures for implementation of the law, is one of oversight and reporting.
A maximum of 40 charter schools may be established over a five-year period. No more than eight may be established in any year within the five-year period. If fewer than eight are established in any year, then additional schools equal to the difference between the number established in that year and eight may be established in the following year. The five-year period begins with the first year in which there have been charter schools operating for a full school year. Within ten days of an action to approve or deny a charter application, all authorizers must provide notification of the action to the SBE. If the SBE receives notification on the same day of approval of charters for operation in any single year that would cause the annual limit on the number of charter schools that be established for that year to be exceeded, the SBE will certify those charters for implementation in that year through the use of a lottery, and certify the remaining school or schools for implementation in a subsequent year.
No. The limits apply to the total number of charter schools that may be established, regardless of whether the authorizers are school districts or the Commission. There are not separate caps on the number of district-authorized and commission-authorized charter schools.
No. RCW 28A.710.080 makes clear that a charter school authorized by a school district must be located within that district.
15. If a school district is approved as an authorizer, is a non-profit organization that wishes to establish a charter school in the district required to submit its charter application to the local school board?
No. The entity can choose to submit its charter application to the local school board, if the board has been approved as an authorizer, or to the Commission. It cannot, however, apply to both.
No. The charter school law grants no power to a school district to prohibit or otherwise prevent the Commission from authorizing a charter school within the boundaries of the district.
A conversion charter school is created by following all the same steps as for a new charter school that are set forth in RCW 28A.710.030, with the additional step that the applicant must also demonstrate support for the proposed conversion by a petition signed by a majority of teachers assigned to the school or a petition signed by a majority of parents of students in the school. Chapter 28A.710 RCW is not a “parent trigger law.” A petition signed by parents is not sufficient to convert an existing public school to a public charter school.
Not directly. A private school that wishes to become a public charter school would have to form a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation and apply to an authorizer to establish a new charter school, following all the same requirements and procedures as any other charter applicant. If approved by an authorizer, it would then be subject to the terms of the charter contract and to any state laws applicable to public charter schools.
A charter school is governed by an independent charter school board according to the terms of a charter contract. The duty of the charter school board is to manage and operate the charter school and carry out the terms of its charter contract, with powers including but not limited to hiring, managing and discharging any charter school employee in accordance with the charter school law and the school’s charter contract, receiving and disbursing funds for the purpose of the charter school, entering into contracts for goods and services to the same extent as noncharter public schools.
No. RCW 28A.710.030 provides that contracts for “management operation” of the charter school may only be with nonprofit organizations.
No. A charter school board can neither levy taxes nor issues tax-supported bonds.
Washington’s charter school law does not specify how a charter school board is selected, or the composition of its membership. That is left up to the non-profit corporation that, if its application is approved, enters into the charter contract with the authorizer. Among the required elements of a charter application is background information on the proposed governing board members and, if identified, the proposed school leadership and management team.
Yes. Charter schools are public schools, and the constitutional entitlement to a basic education accrues to students in charter public schools as fully as to students in non-charter public schools. RCW 28A.710.040 provides that all charter schools must provide basic education, including instruction in the state’s essential academic learning requirements. RCW 28A.710.160 further states that after approval of a charter application, the authorizer and the governing board of the charter school must execute a charter contract “by which, fundamentally, the public charter school agrees to provide educational services that at a minimum meet basic education standards in return for an allocation of funds . . . ” WAC 180-19-090 further add that a school district board of directors applying to be a charter authorizer must provide a statement of assurance that it will include in any charter contact it may execute with an approved charter school educational services that, at a minimum, meet the basic education requirements set forth in RCW 28A.150.220. These include, but are not limited to, minimum requirements for instructional hour offerings, school days, and high school graduation.
RCW 28A.710.040 provides that charter schools must participate in the statewide assessment system developed by the Superintendent of Public Instruction under the state law on academic achievement and accountability. Charter schools are additionally subject to their own, distinct accountability requirements that do not apply to non-charter public schools. A charter contract may not be renewed, when its five-year term is up, if the charter school’s performance falls in the bottom quartile of all public schools in the Achievement Index developed by the State Board of Education, except if the school demonstrates exceptional circumstances that the authorizer accepts as justifying renewal. A charter school is further subject to individual accountability requirements set in its charter contract, which must include a performance framework setting out the academic and operational indicators, measures and metrics that will guide the authorizer’s evaluation of the school over the term of the contract. The performance framework must include, at a minimum, student academic proficiency, student academic growth, achievement gaps in both proficiency and growth between major student subgroup, attendance, recurrent enrollment from year to year, and, for high schools, graduation rates and postsecondary readiness.
Yes. A charter contract may be revoked at any time or not renewed at the end of the contract term if the authorizer determines that the charter school:
Authorizers must follow processes and procedures set out in law (RCW 28A.710.200) in order to revoke or decline to renew a charter contract.
Public charter schools receive state funding in the same manner, with some technical exceptions, as other public schools. RCW 28A.710.220 provides that the Superintendent of Public Instruction shall allocate funding to a charter school, according to the requirements for basic education funding in RCW 28A.150.250, including for General Apportionment, Special Education, categorical programs, and other, non-basic education programs. A charter school is eligible to apply for state grants on the same basis as a school district. Specific questions about charter school funding should be directed to the Financial Services and Apportionment office in the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, which is responsible for state allocations to public schools.
Charter schools have limited access to local levies. RCW 28A.710.220 provides that conversion charter schools are eligible for levies approved by the voters before the conversion start-up of the school, and the school district in which the school is located must allocate levy moneys to the school. New charter schools are eligible for local levy moneys approved by the voters before the start-up date of the school only if the authorizer is the local school district board of directors. For levies submitted to voters after the start-up date of a charter school, the charter school, whether new or conversion, must be included in levy planning, budgets and funding distribution in the same manner as other public schools in the district. Specific questions about eligibility of charters schools for local levies should be directed to the Financial Services and Apportionment office in the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
RCW 28A.710.230 states that charter schools are eligible for state matching funds for common school construction. It is unclear how a charter school might access state matching funds, as it does not have taxing authority and may not issue tax-supported bonds. Specific questions about funding for facilities should be directed to the School Facilities office in the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, which is responsible for administering the School Construction Assistance Program.