Teachers unions cut spending on charter fight

Eight years ago, teachers statewide went all out to keep Washington’s ban on charter schools in place.

Their statewide union, the Washington Education Association, its parent, the National Education Association, and the local councils collectively poured close to $1.3 million into the campaign to repeal a law allowing publicly funded, privately managed schools.

And teachers succeeded. No seeds for such schools got planted.

This year is a different story, a much different story.

Another charter school measure is on the ballot and the WEA is opposing it.

But its $100,000 contribution to the opposition campaign is only a fraction of what it spent in the battle in 2004. Moreover the NEA and the union locals haven’t given a dime to the political committee WEA formed to fight Initiative 1240.

Union President Mary Lindquist on Wednesday insisted they are not throwing in the towel. Nor, she said, are its member teachers any less passionate than before in their dislike of the nontraditional schools run by private nonprofits with public money.

“We’re going to be working with the ‘No on 1240’ campaign in all of our locals and in communities across the state to let voters know that this is the wrong direction for our state,” she said.

But teachers face a challenging landscape this election cycle and not everything the union wants to accomplish is possible.

They’ve had to set priorities like every other interest group. Looking at where the WEA spends its money, it’s pretty clear what those priorities are: It wants union-friendly candidates elected to run Washington more than keeping charter schools from planting flags on state soil.

There are obvious reasons. The new governor will set a tone and a direction for reforming education for four and maybe eight years. That person along with the next Legislature will be making sweeping decisions in 2013 on huge matters with long-term consequences for teachers such as how schools are funded and how they are evaluated and paid.

Electing Democrat Jay Inslee as governor is the top priority. Already the WEA and NEA have invested $1.15 million into Our Washington, a political committee conducting an independent campaign against Republican Rob McKenna. The union disagrees with McKenna’s agenda for reforming education and is convinced the GOP candidate is out to silence its voice in the process.

The WEA also wants to ensure state Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, is re-elected in the 1st Legislative District. She is chairwoman of the Senate education committee and has been a solid defender of WEA interests.

She faced two opponents in the primary, a Democrat and a Republican, both of whom criticized her ties to the WEA. It was a tough primary — she won — and the union invested nearly $47,000 of its own treasury in mailers and commercials supporting her; that’s roughly half of its donation to the charter school battle.

While those aren’t the only races of importance, they may be the most critical.

Union members figure if they lose them both they may have much bigger worries to deal with in the coming years than what might sprout from the seeding of charter schools.

Political reporter Jerry Cornfield’s blog, The Petri Dish, is at www.heraldnet.com. Contact him at 360-352-8623 or jcornfield@heraldnet.com.

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