No on I-729: Charters do not deliver as promised


For those of you trying to decide how to vote on I-729 — the charter school initiative — we have good news for you. Most of you have already voted against it. A big majority of Washington voters said "no" to charters schools in 1996. Charter schools did not even receive 40 percent yes in any single county in Washington.

What has changed since that resounding defeat? Billionaire Paul Allen has come upon the scene and is spending over $3 million in promoting the passage of Initiative 729, this year’s charter school initiative effort. What used to be a citizens’ effort has become a single-interest, deep-pockets effort.

It also needs to be noted that Mr. Allen is on the board and has investments in Edison Schools, Inc., a for-profit corporation that sells and manages prepackaged educational programs to charter schools. The proponents themselves will tell you that the bottom line for this initiative is the same as it was back in 1996 — give taxpayer dollars to schools that are run independently of local school boards.

The state Office of Financial Management projects that we will be paying up to $18 million more to cover the costs of students currently enrolled in private schools or home-based instruction who change over to charter schools. This may be a conservative estimate since there is nothing in the initiative to prevent private non-sectarian schools from "converting" to charter schools. Forty to 45 percent of the students in Philadelphia and St. Louis’ charter schools are from private schools.

Wait a minute, you say. How can someone make money on a charter school if they have to be nonprofit? The "applicant" charter school board or state university’s governing board must be a nonprofit corporation. However, the initiative specifically allows these boards to contract with any public or private entity — for any and all real property, equipment, goods, supplies, and services including educational instructional services. The Edison company estimates its revenue from the state of Maryland alone will be $50 million over the next five years.

I-729 would send public tax dollars to new charter schools with few requirements for accountability to elected officials, parents or taxpayers. The initiative states that "charter public schools shall report at least annually to its sponsor and to parents of children enrolled at the charter public school." Our common public schools are open to scrutiny from school board members, the public and parents every school day of the year.

The initiative states that charter schools will be exempt from all state and local rules except those relating to state and federal health, safety and civil rights, state required tests, hiring of teachers, record checks, financial and audit requirements, annual performance and progress reports and the open public meetings act.

The initiative does not identify exempted laws and rules. A problem is that state laws cannot be amended by reference and, therefore, the sponsors of the initiative needed to identify each law or rule that will be waived. Another problem is that the statutes established by the Legislature have been enacted to protect students, parents, employees and taxpayers.

Which laws will be waived? Those that apply to student attendance, suspension and expulsion? An employee’s rights relating to dismissal? A parent’s right to examine curricula and exempt students from objectionable materials? A taxpayer’s right to know and review programs and materials funded with their dollars? If these and other laws are not necessary, why not remove them from all schools currently operating under the direction and accountability of elected school boards?

Sending public dollars to schools run by non-profit organizations, especially those that choose to contract with private for-profit companies — as I-729 specifically allows — is contrary to Washington’s state constitution that clearly requires a general and uniform system of common schools. Selling our schools to for-profit corporations will lead to a serious erosion of the foundation of our democratic society — our common schools. Just think about it. Seventy percent of the charter schools in Michigan are now run by for-profit corporations.

Do we need to improve? Definitely! Do we need your help and support? Absolutely! Our goal is to have a system of public schools where all students have the opportunities and educational programs they need to meet our new, higher standards. Diverting funds, teachers, parents, students and energy from our public schools is not the answer.

We need to keep the public in public schools. We need to keep your attention, your support, your tax dollars — and our accountability to you. Vote NO on Initiative 729!

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