Judge’s ruling clears way for charter initiative

OLYMPIA — Supporters are cleared to begin collecting signatures for a citizen initiative to create a public charter school system in Washington.

Thurston County Judge Lisa Sutton tweaked ballot language Friday after hearing from parties on opposite sides of the issue and gave approval, the Olympian newspaper reported Saturday.

Both supporters and critics of Initiative 1240 had challenged the ballot title and description written by the attorney general’s office.

The campaign faces a July 6 deadline for securing 241,153 valid voter signatures to get on the Nov. 6 ballot.

“We look forward to getting on the streets gathering signatures as soon as we can,” Shannon Campion, executive director for reform-advocacy group Stand for Children, told the Olympian. “It will be a combination of paid and volunteer signature gathering.”

Charters are public schools that run independently from district controls. They are governed by a multi-year performance contract that requires proof that a school is improving student achievement.

Washington voters rejected initiatives calling for charter schools in 1996, 2000 and 2004.

The Washington Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, opposes charters. It wanted to insert language into the ballot description calling charter schools “experimental.” WEA’s staff lawyer Michael Gawley, who argued in court, described Washington students as “lab rats” in the experiment, the Olympian reported.

Judge Sutton pushed aside most of the association’s suggestions and also dismissed one from the I-1240 campaign.

Attorney Harry Korrell, who appeared on behalf of the I-1240 campaign, argued for ballot language that said the measure would “allow” rather than “authorize” up to 40 charter schools. Sutton said she believed “authorize” was a term that better described what the measure does.

The judge also answered a WEA complaint, revising the ballot title to say the initiative concerns “creation” of a charter school system and convey that the proposal would allow something new.

It’s not certain how the state’s largest teacher union will counter the signature drive, WEA spokesman Rich Wood. He told the newspaper he hopes voters are alerted to what the measure would do. He said it would siphon scarce resources from public school classrooms.

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