Ann Dornfeld: ‘Where is the accountability?’ for WA’s largest charter school chain
Ann Dornfield is writing a series for KUOW about Impact, Washington state’s largest charter chain. In this installment, she tries to locate anyone requiring accountability from the chain’s operators.
ver seven months, KUOW interviewed 50 current and former Impact staff and parents, and reviewed thousands of pages of documents from Impact and state agencies, including enrollment records, staff resignation letters, court records, charter contracts, nondisclosure agreements, and internal emails.
KUOW’s investigation revealed a charter school chain that state officials have allowed to grow rapidly even as, staff allege, it failed to identify and serve students with disabilities, offered little to English language learners, and where crowded classrooms are largely led by inexperienced teachers without the usual credentials. Many students were recommended to repeat a grade based on test scores.
Records show that staff members and parents have, for years, taken their complaints about how Impact serves students to the many agencies assigned to oversee charter schools. They emailed the Impact board of directors, testified to the Washington State Charter School Commission, and reported concerns to the State Auditor’s Office. Little, if anything, came of their efforts, they said.
After Impact’s first school, in Tukwila, opened in 2018, the state approved new branches in Seattle, Tacoma, and a Renton location set to open next year.
As the state’s charter school law requires, Impact promised to focus its mission on marginalized students, and its demographics reflect the communities around its schools.
The charter chain’s students are mostly children of color from low-income families. Black students make up the largest percentage, including many from East African immigrant and refugee families. Twenty-one percent of students are learning English, state records show.
Jen Davis Wickens, Impact Public Schools co-founder and CEO, declined multiple interview requests for this story and agreed only to respond to emailed questions via a spokesperson.