Voters Shoot Down Changes to Schools
By DAVID WICKERT; The News Tribune
Washington voters Tuesday appeared to reject two measures that would have had a dramatic impact on public schools. In early returns, voters appeared to reject Initiative 884, which would have raised the state sales tax to generate $1 billion for schools and colleges. Also trailing was Referendum 55, which would have launched a charter schools experiment in Washington.
I-884 supporters were not conceding defeat Tuesday night as returns came in. “We think there’s still a lot more votes to count,” said Natalie Reber, spokeswoman for the I-884 campaign.
The initiative would have raised the sales tax from 6.5 percent to 7.5 percent. The $1 billion raised would have bolstered education programs from preschool through college. The improvements would have included:
. 10,000 slots in early learning programs.
. Smaller class sizes, teacher training, and after-school programs in K-12 schools.
. A 3.6 percent pay raise for public school and community college employees.
. $5,000 bonuses for teachers certified by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, plus $10,000 bonuses for certified teachers who teach in "high need" schools.
. 32,000 new slots for college students.
Opponents said the tax hike would hurt low- and middle-income families while failing to address fundamental problems in education. They also predicted higher taxes would cost the state 10,000 jobs. “I think the primary reason (it’s failing) is concern over the economy,” said Jamie Daniels of the League of Freedom Voters, which opposed the initiative. “We need to be getting our jobs back.”
Meanwhile, opponents of Referendum 55, the charter schools measure, celebrated an apparent victory. “We are pretty happy. I think voters are sending a very strong message,” said Jennifer Lindenauer, spokeswoman for the Reject Referendum 55 campaign. Lindenauer noted that voters also rejected charter schools measures in 1996 and 2000. “I think voters are sick and tired of dealing with this issue,” she said.
The measure would have authorized the creation of up to 45 charter schools over six years. It also would have allowed an unlimited number of “conversion” charters: existing public schools converted to charters if they failed to make adequate progress on test scores.
Under Washington’s proposed law, charter schools would have been public schools operated by private nonprofit groups that contract with local school boards or the state school superintendent.
Though the intent of the law was to target low-income and other disadvantaged students, charter schools could not turn away any students as long as there was room.
Supporters see charter schools as a way to introduce healthy competition into public schools and to give low-income families a choice of better schools. They believe the competition will improve all schools.
Opponents said charters drain resources from existing public schools and would not be as accountable as existing schools. They objected to launching what they see as a new system of schools when existing schools aren’t fully funded.
Jim Spady, a chief charter schools supporter, held out hope that Referendum 55 would pass. If it doesn’t, he said, the state needs to find another way to help “tens of thousands of children falling through the cracks of the public school system.”
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