EDITORIAL: Seattle Post-Intelligencer, October 5, 2004

Referendum 55: A Modest Experiment


Washington voters have a choice between paralysis and modest experimentation in public schools. State residents should approve Referendum 55, a law already passed by the Legislature to allow charter schools. On balance, approval of R-55 offers opportunities for improving schools, particularly in disadvantaged areas, with only modest risks.

The measure is on the ballot because the Washington Education Association gathered signatures to block the law passed by the Legislature and send it to voters. That's unfortunate. The Legislature did a good job of compromising to avoid problems.

The charter schools would have a strong degree of independence, while being part of the public system and receiving taxpayer support. The law makes it a priority to serve struggling students.

The measure is certainly not perfect. While forbidding control by for-profit companies, R-55 allows firms to offer educational services, a possible loophole. The limit of 45 new charters over six years is good, but unlimited numbers of public schools could convert.

But the Legislature could change the law if a rush occurs or profit-making ensues. Indeed, for the experiment to succeed, lawmakers, school boards, and state officials must monitor charters carefully.

There is value in experimentation, new options, and letting the legislative process work. Referendum 55 merits approval.

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