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Charter Schools Initiative Passing Narrowly

School desk
Flickr Photo/ccarlstead (CC BY-NC-ND)

The initiative to allow charter schools in Washington is narrowly passing with 51 percent of the vote. This was the fourth time the state’s voters considered charter schools. Supporters said charters would expand students’ educational options because charters aren’t bound by district or union rules.

The latest polls predicted an easy win for charters. Before election results came in Tuesday night, the mood among I-1240 campaign party-goers was festive. Reporters at the party grumbled, though, that they were relegated to a blocked-off corner of the room and not allowed to mingle with guests. 

Eventually, League of Education Voters CEO Chris Korsmo told the crowd that with half the ballots counted, the vote was too close to call. Korsmo told KUOW, "I’m really proud that we kept it positive and factual. It was a statewide campaign and we made a lot of contact with voters in a variety of ways."

The charter school campaign was able to reach voters in so many ways in part by outspending the opposition 17 to one, at last count. Nearly all of the money behind I-1240 came from just a handful donors, including Bill Gates, Paul Allen, and Wal-Mart heiress, Alice Walton.

The opposing People for Our Public Schools  campaign manager Sue Tupper said even those deep pockets couldn’t guarantee a landslide. "I’m very encouraged by the fact that $11 million didn’t do it. They couldn’t buy it," she said. "And that speaks volumes about the people of this state, their common sense, and where their hearts are with regard to education, and what they’re committed to."

Opponents to I-1240 said the main problem with public education in Washington is lack of funding, not lack of options.

But teachers' unions didn’t mount as strong a defense against charters as they had in elections past. Union officials said they were financially outgunned this year, so they decided to focus money on the governor’s race.

Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn was reelected Tuesday after running unopposed. Dorn said if the charter schools initiative passes, his office will challenge it in court. "We’d bring that challenge not on what the concept of charter schools is about, but who is in charge of public schools in this state." Dorn said the state constitution says he should be in charge -- not a separate charter schools commission.

If I-1240 passes, it would allow 40 charter schools over five years. The first eight charters could open next year.

Year started with KUOW: 2008