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Wash. State Approves Its First Batch of Charter Schools

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Following the approval of PRIDE Prep by Spokane Public Schools last week—Washington state's first charter school—the Washington Charter Schools Commission approved seven more charter schools this week to open in the state.

The seven state-approved charters, which were chosen from 19 applications, plus the charter school approved in Spokane brings the total number of approved charter schools in Washington to eight.

All but one of the approved charters will be opening in 2015-16. The only charter school approved to open in 2014-15 is First Place, an elementary school that has operated for the past 25 years as a private school serving students struggling with poverty and homelessness in Seattle. 

Marta Reyes-Newberry, the interim executive director of the Washington State Charter Schools Association, said in an interview with Education Week that First Place was an ideal example of the type of school sought by the state's charter law, which she said "was crafted to really target those areas where children who were economically or academically at risk for not being successful." 

Four of the approved schools, including PRIDE Prep, were proposed by local public school educators. Charter school networks Green Dot Public Schools and Summit Public Schools were also approved to operate a total of three charter schools in the state. 

Under the state's charter school law, which was passed by voters in 2012, eight charter schools can be approved each year for the next five years. Because only one charter was approved to open next year, the seven leftover spots will roll over to 2015-16 and beyond.

Spokane Public Schools was the only school district in Washington state to apply to become a charter school authorizer. The district was recently awarded a $100,000 grant to strengthen collaborative relationships between the district and its first charter school by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation through its district-charter compact initiative. (Education Week receives funding from the Gates foundation, which supports the newspaper's coverage of the education industry and K-12 innovation. The newspaper retains sole editorial control over coverage.)

The state's charter law faces a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality but was mostly upheld by a Superior Court judge in December. The law has since been appealed by the plantiffs—which include the Washington Education Association and Washington Association of School Administrators—to the Supreme Court of Washington, which is expected to take the case. A ruling from the high court could be issued as early as April or as late as November, said Reyes-Newberry. 

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