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Support for charter schools mixed here and across the state

A recent statewide poll shows that 60 percent of those surveyed are in favor of charter schools.

That's according to the Washington Policy Center, which announced the survey results.

Specifically, the poll reflected that 60 percent were in favor of changing state law to allow charter public schools, and 64 percent said they support allowing low-income and minority children in urban neighborhoods to attend such schools.

Charter public schools are currently banned in Washington state. If the ban is lifted, Washington would join 41 states and the District of Columbia in allowing children to attend independent charter public schools.

Currently 1.7 million children attend 5,453 charters around the country. Nationally, 365,000 students are on waiting lists to attend a charter public school, according to the Washington Policy Center.

The views on charter schools are more mixed here in the Lower Valley.

"Three times the issue of charter schools has come before Washington voters and not been approved," noted Sunnyside Schools Superintendent Dr. Rick Cole. "There are currently mechanisms within the current state law that allows districts to create magnet schools that offer specialized programs or curriculum."

Sen. Jim Honeyford of Sunnyside expressed support for the idea, however.

"I have always supported the concept of charter schools and continue to do so," he said. "I believe that competition is good in both business and education."

Paul Guppy is the vice president for research at the Washington Policy Center, and he says the survey results show increasing support for charter schools.

"We often hear that people in Washington don't want charter public schools. These findings show just the opposite," said Guppy. "It appears support for lifting the ban is growing as people learn about how charter public schools in other states are achieving amazing results for children, even in some of the country's toughest urban neighborhoods."

When asked about serving low-income and minority students, support for allowing public charter schools was at 57 percent in eastern Washington and at 65 percent in western Washington.

Even so, SHS science teacher Teri Alvarez-Ziegler feels funding for public charter schools could negatively impact the amount of money available for other public education.

"If anything it will hurt school funding, especially in poorer school districts," said Alvarez-Ziegler.

The Washington Policy Center said its survey included 400 adults and that the survey results have a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

The survey was conducted because of bills proposed during the state legislative session underway in Olympia, noted John Barnes, communications director for the Washington Policy Center.

Barnes told the Daily Sun News that legislation proposed by Democrats in the House and Senate would have permitted a limited number of charter schools in this state.

"It seemed like there was a possibility like these might even move, but there was some controversy in the Senate because the education committee chair refused to move the bill forward," Barnes said.

With lawmakers considering charter schools, Barnes said his agency decided the time was right to do some polling to gauge the public's interest. "We felt it was timely given the degree of movement that we haven't seen in years," he said.

Barnes said if the measure doesn't make it out of the state legislature, then there is the possibility a ballot measure will be submitted for voter consideration.

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