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Politics Northwest

The Seattle Times political team explores national, state and local politics.

July 6, 2012 at 9:34 AM

Charter school initiative gets 350,000 signatures, likely headed for ballot

Supporters of an initiative to allow charter schools in Washington state submitted about 350,000 signatures to the Secretary of State this morning, more than enough to qualify for the November ballot.

The Secretary of State’s Office reported the news in a tweet.

“Voters have clearly shown they want another chance to consider this issue, and we believe the majority will join us in voting YES in November – to finally allow public charter schools here in Washington,” state Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, a charter supporter, said in a news release from the initiative campaign.

Assuming the batch contains 241,153 valid signatures, state voters will get a fourth chance to approve charters – free and public schools that operate independently of traditional districts and are allowed to use unconventional techniques.

The state teachers union and others oppose them because they hire nonunion employees and divert money from traditional public schools.

“Instead of diverting scarce resources from existing public school classrooms and spending it on unaccountable charter schools for a few students, we should be investing more in the innovative public schools we already have,” Mary Lindquist, president of the state teachers union, said in a news release in response to the signature turn-in.

While charters exist in 41 states, voters here have rejected them in 1996, 2000 and 2004.

The latest effort, called Initiative 1240, began in May, after Pettigrew and other charter school supporters in the state Legislature failed to pass a bill allowing them. The 21-day signature drive was aided by paid signature-gatherers from out of state.

Supporters of the initiative have raised more than $2 million, including more than $1 million from Bill Gates and $450,000 from Mike and Jackie Bezos, parents of Amazon executive Jeff Bezos.

Another initiative, the Tim Eyman-sponsored renewal of the two-thirds majority requirement for lawmakers to raise taxes, is also expected to submit enough signatures today.

That campaign has raised nearly $1 million, including $400,000 from a Washington, D.C.-based beer lobbying firm, and $200,000 from oil companies BP and ConocoPhillips.

With these two additions, voters will weigh in on six ballot measures this fall, including high-profile measures regarding gay marriage and marijuana legalization.

Comments | More in Education | Topics: ballot initiatives, Bill Gates, charter schools

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