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Players ready for Super Bowl of WA charter schools

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SEATTLE (AP) - The chairman of the state's new Charter School Commission isn't entirely comfortable calling Thursday the Super Bowl of charter schools in Washington state, but he does agree it will be a very big day for proponents of the independent public schools.

The commission meets in Seattle on Thursday to vote on which of the 19 proposed new public schools will get a charter.

Along with one school authorized last week by Spokane Public Schools, these will be the first charters in Washington state since voters approved the idea in 2012.

"We have a lot more teams than the Super Bowl, and the format's maybe a little different," said Steve Sundquist, a former Seattle school board president who was chosen to lead the statewide Charter School Commission last May.

Not everyone was feeling celebratory about charter schools this week.

The charter law was approved by voters by a slim margin and is being challenged in a lawsuit making its way through state courts. King County Superior Court Judge Jean Rietschel ruled in December that part of the new law violates the state constitution. The ruling is expected to be appealed all the way up to the Washington Supreme Court, and proponents said the ruling will not affect implementation of the schools.

The coalition bringing the lawsuit includes the state teachers' union, a group of Washington school administrators, the League of Women Voters, El Centro de la Raza and several parents, children and school advocates.

Rich Wood, a spokesman for the Washington Education Association, said the teacher's union is concerned about academic and fiscal accountability and the state dollars going to these schools, especially when the Washington Supreme Court has ruled that funding for public schools is inadequate.

"Ever since the election and even before that, educators and parents had been concerned about diverting precious funding away from our traditional public schools and toward these new charter schools that will be run by unelected private entities," Wood said.

Earlier this week, the commission released analyses of each proposal submitted late last year. Independent teams of four people appointed by the commission and a national charter group evaluated each proposed school.

Six schools were recommended by the evaluation teams, but the commission will discuss the recommendations and vote on each proposal Thursday.

Sundquist said Wednesday that the commission is not required to follow the recommendations of the independent evaluators, but he also emphasized the professional qualifications of the teams, which all have both education and management experience.

"The commission could choose to voter differently," he said. "I don't want to presuppose tomorrow's outcome."

All the recommended schools would be in Western Washington: two in Tacoma, two in Seattle and one each in Highline and Kent. All six plan to open in fall 2015.

The charter-school law allows up to 40 independent public schools to open over five years.

Sundquist said the application and review process has been a learning experience for everyone involved.

He said he feels good about how smoothly it has gone and how the commission and other key players - including the State Board of Education - demanded high standards for these new schools.

"We've come to a good place and I'm frankly feeling pretty good," Sundquist said.

The one outcome Sundquist was surprised by was the dearth of applications from Eastern Washington. He hopes that will change in the future.

The process begins again later this spring. People who want to open a charter school in Washington will need to submit a notice of intent to the statewide commission or the Spokane school district by June 15. Their applications are due July 15. Decisions on the next batch of schools will be made by Oct. 15.

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Contact Donna Blankinship at https://twitter.com/dgblankinship

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Online:

Charter School Commission: http://is.gd/0EsilY

State Board of Education: http://is.gd/zi1ywP

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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