7 groups file proposals for Washington charter schools

SEATTLE (AP) - Seven groups have submitted proposals to open charter schools in Washington, in the second round of a new process to bring these independent public schools to the state.

Three times as many applications were submitted last year. The chairman of the statewide Charter School Commission says the fewer applications do not show a decrease in interest.

"It's not really a great surprise to me that the first round was bigger," said Steve Sundquist, chairman of the commission. "People see it's a significantly challenging road, as a consequence, that narrows the field."

Four applications have been made to the statewide commission, compared to 19 last year.

Three other applications have been submitted to the Spokane School District, which is authorized to approve its own charters. Spokane also received three applications last year.

In January, the statewide commission voted to approve the first seven applications for charter schools. Another school was approved through a separate process in Spokane.

Washington's first charter school is scheduled to open this fall in Seattle. A private school, First Place, is reopening as a charter school in Seattle. The seven other approved charters are planning to open in fall 2015.

Tuesday was the deadline for the second round of applications.

The four proposals to the commission include a bilingual academy in Clark County, a blended learning school in Sunnyside in central Washington, a branch of Green Dot Public Schools in south Seattle, and a school in Gig Harbor in Pierce County that would serve both special needs students and others.

Sundquist said the commission was expecting more applications, but a few groups that were actively working on their proposals did not turn one in.

"We're not entirely certain what happened," he said, adding that they would be following up with those groups to see what happened.

His advice to those considering making a proposal in the future: Start building relationships with people who have the technical skills you lack; get some help with financial planning.

"It's a significant lift and you're going to need help," he said.

The three proposals in Spokane include a school to support deaf and hard of hearing students, an international academy and a branch of a project learning program from California.

Three of the applications - one from Spokane and two from the statewide group - were resubmitted as revised proposals that did not make the grade during last year's process. All three were told they needed to strengthen their financial plans.

"I feel really confident about the applications we have," said Jeannette Vaughn, director of Innovative Programs/Charter Schools for Spokane Public Schools.

The Spokane district hopes to make its decisions on this round of applications by the end of September. The deadline statewide is Oct. 15.

State voters in 2012 approved a charter-school measure that allows up to 40 independent public schools to open over five years.

The law says up to eight of the independent schools can be opened in any one year, but because only one school was approved for 2014, more schools could be approved for opening in 2015.