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Originally published August 20, 2012 at 12:04 AM | Page modified August 20, 2012 at 11:01 AM

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State PTA should rethink opposition to charter-school initiative

The Washington state PTA's opposition to Initiative 1240, the charter-school initiative, is ambivalent enough to warrant rethinking the decision.

Seattle Times Editorial

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The Washington State PTA supports charter schools. Thus, its decision to oppose the charter-school initiative scheduled for the November ballot deserves rethinking.

The state group, which represents 142,224 PTA members, offers an opposition to Initiative 1240 steeped in nuance and clouded by ambivalence.

The PTA board voted 11-6 earlier this month to formally oppose I-1240 included two absent board members and one abstention.

The board criticizes the initiative for not offering strong local oversight. But the initiative calls for charters to be authorized by either local school boards or a new state charter-school commission. The latter choice would not eclipse local input, but rather could streamline it in a way helpful to 295 school districts struggling on many fronts.

PTA board critics of the initiative said the ballot language lacks a requirement for parents to serve on charter-school boards.

But here's something for voters to consider: the charter schools outperforming public schools share a common strength: parent involvement in the classroom and in leadership. That makes sense; children with involved parents tend to do better in school. The best charters understand this as well as traditional public schools do.

The national PTA supports charters. The state PTA supported charter school legislative efforts twice this year. Clearly the organization is conflicted about these nontraditional public schools.

"This wasn't a decision about the value of charter schools," state PTA president Novella Fraser said in a media announcement.

PTA executive Director Bill Williams goes further. "We're open to charters. Unfortunately, people see this issue as like a light switch: It is either on or off. We see charters as being a more complex issue."

I-1240 is a thoughtful and limited proposal that allows Washington to explore an education option garnering success in 41 states. It is contained enough to be a pilot, allowing time for the Legislature to address the PTSA's concerns.

But first voters have to say yes on I-1240.

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