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Originally published Tuesday, September 24, 2013 at 4:33 PM

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Editorial: Rigorous process ahead for charter schools

Washington’s Charter School Commission is taking applications to open charter schools statewide. Applicants should be prepared for a rigorous process.

Seattle Times Editorial

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PROSPECTIVE charter-school operators applying to the state Charter School Commission should use as a guide the rigorous standards outlined in the charter-schools law passed by voters last fall.

The law, which allows up to 40 new charter schools over the next five years, sets the expectation for innovative, well thought-out plans.

This is a chance for operators to demonstrate how they would create a superior educational experience open to all students, including special-education students, English-language learners and students working at advanced levels.

Proposals should be in tune with Washington’s educational needs and priorities. They should offer demonstrable ways to reduce disparities among students in academic opportunities and performance. What prospective operators have learned from charters outperforming traditional public schools in other states would help shape proposals and the public conversation.

Applicants have until Oct. 22 to submit a letter of intent to open a charter school. Applications are due by Nov. 22. Public hearings about the applications ensure community input before the commission makes its decisions by Feb. 24.

Charter applications can be approved by the state commission or a local school district. The Spokane School District plans to approve charter schools within its boundaries. Other interested districts can apply through the State Board of Education.

Charters are public schools managed independently. They are exempt from some rules and can represent a particular academic area, for example arts education or science, technology, engineering and math.

But no one should think that charters can work academic magic in an arena protected from the challenges traditional public schools face. They must conform to all federal laws, including the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, anti-discrimination laws and gender equity rules under Title IX.

Opponents of charters, including the state’s teachers union, are suing to overturn the new law. Meanwhile, the state charter-school commission and local school districts should continue to follow the law set up for creating well-designed, quality charter schools.

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