First wave of charter applicants apply for Washington schools

by: Natasha Chen Updated:


SEATTLE - Twenty-two applicants submitted paperwork Friday to be considered for opening the first Washington charter schools.

Of the 22, eight will be selected to open as early as next fall.

The applicants range from established charter management organizations to parents who are attempting to run their first school.

In the latter category, Kyleen Niccolls decided just two months ago that she would apply.

Niccolls currently runs a Seattle non-profit with her husband, called Sports in Schools. They support athletics programs in low-income communities.

She was inspired by a CBS story about a Brooklyn charter school, where the underprivileged students play sports in the morning and do academics in the afternoon.

“I was running on a treadmill, and I was reading a story about the charter school application process opening. And I thought, 'Wow, that would be really amazing if we could do something like that here,'” Niccolls said.

On the other end of the spectrum, certain applicants wanting to start charter schools in Washington already run dozens of schools in other states.

“It’s what you’d expect. It’s a mix of folks from out of state, who are coming in to start a school here that have no experience in Washington, and there are also some local places that are trying to get things done,” said Justin Fox-Bailey, president of the Snohomish Education Association.

Fox-Bailey has been carefully monitoring a lawsuit filed to stop charter schools from starting in Washington.

“It’s not as if this thing is shown to be successful,” he said.

But Lisa Macfarlane, secretary of the Washington State Charter School Association, said that some of the applicants are highly successful in other places.

“Summit Public Schools and Green Dot Public Schools are both in the Bay Area, and they have a phenomenal track record,” Macfarlane said.

She also explained how rigorous the application process is, requiring hundreds of hours from only the most dedicated and passionate applicants.

“We’ve set up a structure that is really focused on quality,” she said.

The state’s charter school commission will comb through the applications, first to check if they are all complete. Then the full applications will be made public around Dec. 2.

The commission is made up of people appointed by the governor, and leaders of the state senate and house of representatives.

Still, Fox-Bailey said there is not enough local oversight.

Even though all applicants are required to be non-profits to operate in Washington, he said that doesn’t guarantee proper use of funds.

“Non-profit is not going to mean that the money is going to be driven to the classroom, to the kids. It makes no oversight, particularly to an unelected board, about how much they’re compensating their chief executive officer,” he said.


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