May 22, 2012 at 2:16 PM
Advocacy groups file initiative to put charter schools on November ballot
A coalition of education advocacy groups filed an initiative this afternoon to ask voters once again to allow charter schools in Washington state.
If the groups can collect nearly 250,000 signatures by the July 6 deadline, the issue will go on the November ballot, joining a slew of other high-profile questions.
It would be the fourth time voters have considered the idea.
Charters, public but independent schools that are allowed to use unconventional techniques — including non-union employees — are legal in most states, but have been voted down here in 1996, 2000 and 2004. In this year’s Legislative session, lawmakers considered a bill to allow charter schools, but it ultimately did not come up for a vote.
This initiative would cap the number of charter schools at 40, to be established and approved by the state over a five-year period. Priority would be given to charters that serve at-risk students or students from low-performing public schools.
Only nonprofit organizations approved by the state would be able to run them, and students would be selected by lottery.
Like at other schools, the charters would be funded based on student enrollment. Annual performance reviews would be required.
The initiative, first floated in February, has the support of state Sen. Steve Litzow, R-Mercer Island, and Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle.
“This measure is a very reasonable and carefully thought-out approach to bringing innovative solutions to our public schools and improving the quality of education we provide to all students in Washington,” Litzow said in a news release.
But Rich Wood, a spokesman for the state teachers union, criticized charter school proponents for not consulting teachers before filing the initiative. He pointed to research showing that the performance of charter schools is mixed.
“Why on Earth would we start new, experimental schools and divert money away from our existing public schools when we’re not fully funding those?” Wood asked. “We need to invest in the great innovative schools that we already have.”
The timing of the filing leaves the initiative organizers with only a few weeks to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures.
“It’s very unusual to be filing in May,” said Dave Ammons, a spokesman for the Secretary of State’s Office. “Time is very short.”
The initiative was filed by Tania de Sa Campos, the chief of staff of the League of Education Voters. She could not immediately be reached for comment.
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