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First Charter School Opens in Washington State

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Washington State's first charter school officially opens in Seattle Wednesday, and although it's new to the charter sector, the school has actually been around for a quarter of a century.

First Place Scholars had been operating as a private school under a slightly different name for the 25 years before petitioning the state to convert into a charter. First Place Scholars' mission will remain the same under its new charter status: serving students facing multiple traumas such as homelessness or abuse. "You name it: one of the children I mentored, his sister witnessed a homicide," recalls the school's board president Daniel Seydel. "Our kids have seen things that many adults haven't seen in their lives."

First Place Scholars provides students with small classes, case managers, and 60 hours a year of one-on-one mentoring and tutoring through a volunteer program. It also offers services to parents—including housing if need be. ¬†

Until now, the school has relied on donations for funding—the school never charged tuition. Seydel says school officials opted to convert to a charter school so they could have access to state and federal funds which, in turn, could help them expand. Enrollment since last year has almost doubled from about 50 students to over 90.

First Place Scholars will be the only charter school in the state until next school year, when seven other charters are scheduled to open, including one run by the high-profile California-based charter school chain, Green Dot Public Schools. It will be only the second Green Dot-run school outside of California.

Washington's charter law was passed in 2012 via voter referendum after earlier attempts to pass a bill through the state legislature failed. That leaves only eight states now without a charter law. However, there's still some bumpy ground ahead for Washington's new law: a legal challenge backed by the state's teachers' union, the League of Women Voters, and a group of school administrators is headed to the state Supreme Court at the end of October.

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