Washington News
theolympian, June 15, 2012

UPDATE - Judge OK's ballot for I-1240 (charter schools)
By Brad Shannon

Backers of Initiative 1240 are now free to print petitions and start collecting signatures for their measure to create a new public charter school system in Washington. Judge Lisa Sutton gave approval to final ballot-title language this morning after hearing in Thurston County Superior Court to hear proposals from parties on opposite sides of the issue. 

UPDATE: Sutton agreed to add use the term “creation” in the ballot title to convey that the proposal would allow something new. The other key word Sutton changed was in the ballot measure summary - dropping the word "certain" in favor of "qualifying" to describe the organizations authorized to operate public charter schools.

First, here is the ballot title as approved, starting with the statement of subject:

Initiative Measure No. 1240 concerns creation of a public charter school system. 

Here is the concise description: 

This measure would authorize up to forty publicly-funded charter schools open to all students, operated through approved, nonreligious, nonprofit organizations, with government oversight; and modify certain laws applicable to them as public schools. 

Lastly, the ballot measure summary limited to 75 words: 

This measure would allow a newly-created state commission or approved local school boards to authorize qualifying nonreligious, nonprofit organizations to operate public charter schools, limited to forty schools over five years. Public charter schools would receive standard per-student public school funding and be open to all students without tuition. Public charter schools would be subject to teacher certification requirements, government oversight, and performance reporting requirements, but exempt from certain state laws and school district policies. 

As we reported here, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates has given $200,000 to I-1240. As we reported here, the Washington Education Association wanted to insert language into the ballot description calling charter schools “experimental” – and the WEA’s staff lawyer, who argued in court today, described Washington students as “lab rats” in this experiment. But Sutton pushed aside some of WEA staff attorney Michael Gawley’s suggestions, while also dismissing one from attorney Harry Korrell, who appeared on behalf of the I-1240 campaign. Korrell would have used the term “allow” instead of “authorize.” Sutton said she needed to ensure the language was not prejudicial to either side, and she believed “authorize” was a term that better described what the measure does. 

Spokesman Rich Wood and WEA lobbyist Lucinda Young, the union’s charter-schools expert, sat in the court to watch. Wood later said he hopes voters are alerted to what the measure would do – “siphoning” scarce resources from public school classrooms on an experimental form of education that a Stanford University study showed would benefit only 17 percent of students participating while serving others less well than existing schools. 

The WEA’s board formally took a position against I-1240 this week. But Wood said it was not certain how the union might seek to counter the signature drive – which faces a July 6 deadline for securing 241,153 valid voter signatures to get on the Nov. 6 ballot. 

Peter Gonick, a deputy solicitor general for the Attorney General’s Office, prepared the draft ballot title. Asked what he thought of the judge’s light editing of the ballot wording, Gonick said: “We thought we wrote a fair and impartial description and it is mostly retained.’’ 

The judge’s decision is final under state law governing ballot measures. 

UPDATE to original 12:39 p.m. post: Shannon Campion, executive director for reform-advocacy group Stand for Children, said signature gathering is going to begin soon. 

“We are very pleased that the superior court rejected all of the WEA’s suggested changes," Campion said in a message [apparently not realizing the judge did insert the term "creation" into the ballot title in response to WEA's arguments]. "We look forward to getting on the streets gathering signatures as soon as we can. It will be a combination of paid and volunteer signature gathering.’’

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