|Putting Children First||
Unions Launch Anti-Charter Referendum Drive.
For over 10 years, legislators and citizens have tried to pass a bill authorizing charter public schools in WA. We never gave up and this year, finally, we did it, despite the fierce opposition of the powerful Washington Education Association (WEA) and the other anti-charter forces.
The day after the Legislature passed the bill WEA President Charles Hasse was still arguing publicly against the bill, telling Seattle's KIRO NewsRadio that the WEA would take steps to "mitigate" charter schools. Now we know what he meant.
Today the WEA's so-called "Representative Assembly" debated behind closed doors in Spokane and then voted to help anti-charter forces circulate referendum petitions to force a statewide vote this November on the 2004 Charter School Bill (HB 2295). If the anti-charter forces can gather 99,000 valid voter signatures by June 9, HB 2295 will be suspended until voters statewide render their verdict as part of the November 2 General Election.
An article from the web version of tonight's Seattle Post-Intelligencer is below, FYI.
THE WASHINGTON CHARTER SCHOOL CONFERENCE
We won't know whether the WEA's anti-charter referendum drive will be successful until late May or early June.
So should we cancel the WASHINGTON CHARTER SCHOOL CONFERENCE planned for April 16-18?
ABSOLUTELY NOT! THE WASHINGTON CHARTER SCHOOL CONFERENCE WILL GO AHEAD AS PLANNED. Charter supporters need to demonstrate by their numbers and enthusiasm that we will NOT be intimidated by the WEA and the other anti-charter organizations supporting the petition drive.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE STRUGGLE TO BRING THE CHOICE OF CHARTER PUBLIC SCHOOLS TO WA.
As you may know, in 1996 a very strong charter school ballot initiative (I-177) earned only 36% of the vote. In 2000, a moderately strong charter school ballot initiative (I-729) earned over 48% of the vote, including majorities in several Puget Sound area counties such as Snohomish County (Everett), Pierce County (Tacoma) and Kitsap County (Bremerton). I-729 led in every pre-election opinion poll, but lost at the ballot box when almost all of the "undecideds" voted no. Moreover, more voters declined to vote on I-729 than I-729's margin of defeat. In other words, charter schools lost in 2000 because less than 2% of all voters who went to the polls and voted on other issues abstained from voting on I-729, presumably because they felt that they didn't know enough about charter schools to make an informed decision.
The 2004 Charter School Bill (HB 2295) is a very modest charter school bill. It authorizes only 15 new charter schools statewide over the first three years, while I-729 would have authorized 60 new charter schools over that same time period. HB 2295 only allows "failing" public schools to convert to charter schools with the permission of its local school board, while I-729 would have allowed any public school to convert to a charter school with the permission of its local school board.
Unlike I-729, HB 2295 is specifically targeted at "educationally disadvantaged students."
Moreover, HB 2295 holds charter schools to the HIGHEST ACCOUNTABILITY STANDARDS of any public schools in America: after five years ALL below-average charter schools MUST be shut down with all of the adults working there losing their jobs.
Can you imagine what WEA President Charles Hasse would say if a school district decided that all below-average, district-run public schools would be closed down after five years, with all of the adults working there losing their jobs? If you haven't already guessed, I'll tell you: STRIKE!
WILL WEA's PETITION DRIVE SUCCEED? Not necessarily.
The Oregon Education Association used this same tactic when the Oregon Legislature authorized charter schools in 1999. However, they did not hire paid signature gatherers and the all-volunteer effort failed to collect enough signatures to qualify the referendum.
Five years later, Oregon has 40 charter schools, another 15 are scheduled to open this fall, the state has received $19 million in federal charter school funding, and expects to get another $5 million soon!
As the Longview Daily News reported on March 24, 2004: PORTLAND, Ore. "(AP) -- Another 15 charter schools may open in Oregon in the upcoming school year, the latest sign of the movement's growing presence in the state. Oregon is also expecting about $5 million in federal start-up money for charter schools next year, on top of $19 million since 1999, according to Joni Gilles, who specializes in charter schools for the Oregon Department of Education." (www.tdn.com/articles/2004/03/24/oregon/news03.txt)
The WEA and its local, regional and national affiliates bring in more than $45 million/year in mandatory union dues from WA educators and district employees who are required to pay the dues as a condition of employment, whether they want to or not. The WEA obviously has enough money to qualify virtually any referendum or initiative at any time. It is questionable, however, whether they can gather enough signatures using an all-volunteer effort.
WHAT HAPPENS IF THE PETITION DRIVE DOES SUCCEED?
If the WEA is successful in its referendum petition drive, HB 2295 will be suspended until voters statewide make the final decision as part of the November general election on November 2 (the same day Americans will decide who will be their next President).
We can expect the WEA to spend at least $1,000,000 to pay for TV ads that attack charter schools, just as they did in 1996. Hopefully this time the WEA will obey the election laws, instead of secretly funneling money and consultants from the NEA to the anti-charter campaign as the WEA did in 1996 (after the 1996 election, the WEA admitted what happened and paid the largest fine in state history for a campaign finance violation).
Pro-charter citizens would rather spend their money CREATING HIGH-QUALITY PUBLIC SCHOOL CHOICES for the children who need them and the families that want them. However, I have no doubt that pro-charter folks like you will continue to do whatever it takes to bring the choice of charter schools to WA, no matter what the cost and no matter how long it takes.
SEE YOU IN SEATTLE on April 16!Jim
Jim Spady, President & C.E.O,
Washington Charter School Resource Center
4426 - 2nd Avenue NE
Seattle, WA 98105-6191
Jim's office phone: 206/634-0589
Jim's cell phone: 206/949-8484
Jim's e-mail address: JimSpady@WAcharterschools.org
Jim & Fawn's home phone: 206/275-2089
WEA throws support behind anti-charter referendum
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Friday, March 26, 2004 (web edition)
SPOKANE, Wash. -- The Washington Education Association on Friday threw its weight behind a proposed referendum to overturn the state's new charter school law.
Delegates at the teachers' union's annual Representative Assembly debated the issue behind closed doors before voting overwhelmingly to support a ballot measure asking voters to reject charter schools.
The vote came a day after leaders of the 76,000-member union voted to sue the state to force the Legislature to make more money available for basic education.
"Before the Legislature and Gov. Locke begin pouring millions of tax dollars into charter schools, the state needs to fulfill its commitment to existing public schools, including fully funding voter initiatives to reduce class size and provide annual cost-of-living increases for teachers," WEA President Charles Hasse said in a release.
Lawmakers this month narrowly voted for a bill allowing charter schools in Washington for the first time, joining about 40 other states with charter school laws.
Proponents of the small, independent schools operated with public money say charter schools are ideal places for helping kids who are failing to meet state and federal standards.
The WEA and other labor unions opposed House Bill 2295, arguing charter schools are an unproven experiment that wastes scarce education dollars.
Charter schools typically operate under a written plan - the charter - that exempts them from many of the rules and restrictions that govern public education.
Voters have rejected charter schools twice in the last eight years.
"We're working with a coalition of public school supporters to put it on the ballot with the intention of letting the public decide" the fate of charter schools, WEA spokesman Rich Wood said.
To qualify for the Nov. 2 ballot, supporters need to collect 98,867 valid signatures of registered voters by June 9.
Momentum for charter schools has been building since Republicans took over the state Senate last year.
Jim Spady, co-director of the Seattle-based Education Excellence Coalition, which pushed for charter schools, said he was disappointed by the WEA's action.
"The union is afraid of giving teachers the same professional freedom doctors, lawyers and accountants have to practice their profession in an environment where customers choose which professional to use," he said. "They're also afraid of a public school in which the adults agree to be held to that extremely high level of accountability."
But Andi Nofziger-Meadows, a Mountlake Terrace High math teacher and WEA delegate, said she supports a referendum because voters have indicated they want to strengthen public schools.
"Washington voters want money in public education for smaller classes, highly qualified teachers and after-school programs," she said. "Charter schools are an expensive experiment that will drain $70 million from public schools."
The WEA contends charter schools will take $35 million away from public schools each year for the next two years.
Sen. Steve Johnson, R-Covington, who helped guide charter school legislation through the Senate, disputed the WEA's claim that charter schools will siphon money from local districts.
The teachers' union is swimming against the tide, he said.
"They're simply putting off the inevitable, he said. "It's going to happen, even if it's delayed by this vote."
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