|Putting Children First||
Union Files Over 150,000 Referendum-55 Signatures;
The Washington Education Association filed 18,108 petitions sheets with Secretary of State's office this morning, containing an estimated 150,000+ signatures. This is more than enough to qualify R-55 for the November ballot, even assuming that a much higher than usual percentage of the signatures are invalid.
Although it won't be official for 2-3 weeks, we should assume that R-55 will qualify for the November ballot.
The WEA claimed that of the 150,000 signatures filed, volunteers collected 120,000 signatures while paid signature gatherers collected 30,000. However, there is no way to verify WEA's claim since the petitions used by both groups were intermingled.
As you may recall, the union originally said that it could qualify R-55 without using any paid signature gatherers. For example, in the April edition of UPDATE, the newsletter of the Lake Washington Education Association, the WEA wrote:
"When told that we [WEA] would not be using paid signature gatherers for the referendum, he [Jim Spady] said: 'Then you will not qualify for the ballot!' WEA has accepted that challenge, and is confident that its members will come through with enough signatures . . . ."
Apparently, some time in May, the WEA lost confidence in its all-volunteer petition drive and quietly started hiring paid signature gatherers.
While the WEA has the right to use paid signature gatherers, it says something about the union's support among its own 76,000 members (and their friends and family members) when WEA can't collect 99,000 valid signatures without hiring paid signature gatherers.
SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW?
As I wrote yesterday, if, as expected, R-55 qualifies for the November ballot, the charter school law passed by the Legislature and signed by the Governor in March will be suspended until Washington’s voters have the opportunity to render their verdict on November 2 (Presidential Election Day).
If the People vote YES on R-55, the charter school law will take effect when the election results are certified and WA's first charter schools could open as early as July 2005.
If the People vote NO on R-55, the charter law will terminate, and there will be no CHOICE of charter public schools in WA for years to come, possibly decades.
The WEA thinks they can defeat charter schools on the statewide ballot because they did so in 1996 and 2000. However, what the WEA ignores is that the support for charter schools has been growing over the last eight years.
In 1996, a strong charter school proposal only earned 36% of the vote statewide, and did not win a majority in any county.
In 2000, however, a moderate charter school proposal earned over 48% of the vote statewide, and won majority support in several counties, including Snohomish County (where Everett is located), Pierce County (where Tacoma is located) and Kitsap County (where Bremerton is located). Although charter schools lost in King County (where Seattle is located), the vote was very close: 49-51.
The support for charter schools increased by 12 points (from 36% to 48%) in the four years between 1996 and 2000. If we can increase the support for charter schools by another 12 points between 2000 and 2004, R-55 will pass easily in November with 60% of the vote.
But we don't need to increase the support for charter schools by 12 points, we only need to increase it by 2 points. That's just 2 voters out of every 100.
2% more is all we need! The voters we need to reach are your friends, family and coworkers.
So don't be shy! Tell everyone you know the following three things about charter schools:
Charter public schools are tuition-free public schools.
1. Charter public schools are tuition-free public schools. They're just a new kind of public school with more choice for parents, more freedom for educators, and more accountability for delivering results. Unlike conventional public schools, charter public schools that don't improve student achievement in objective ways (higher test scores, higher graduation rates, etc.) are shut down, and all the adults who work there lose their jobs.
2. Charter public schools are good for kids, parents and teachers (but not unions) because they create more high-quality public school choices. One size doesn't fit all. The more public school choices families have, the more likely each child will get a good fit.
3. The teachers' union bosses hate charter public schools because charter school teachers don’t need unions. The union is afraid that charter schools will eventually reduce the $55 MILLION/YEAR in mandatory union dues that the union collects from WA educators (skimming 1% of all taxpayer dollars spent on public education!).
In WA, teachers at conventional public schools do not have a choice when it comes to paying union dues to the WEA and its local, regional and national affiliates. Every teacher must pay an average of more than $700 in union dues as a condition of employment. However, because teachers at charter public schools get more freedom to be creative in exchange for promising to deliver better student achievement and putting their jobs on the line, charter school teachers do not have to pay union dues and rarely do.
Accordingly, for the union bosses, the issue is not what's best for kids, or even what's best for teachers; the only thing that matters to them is protecting their $55 MILLION/YEAR in union dues. So whenever the WEA says something terrible about charter schools, remember this: the WEA has the same incentive to lie about charter schools that cigarette companies have to lie about the dangers of smoking.
THANK YOU for everything you're doing to bring the CHOICE of charter public schools to the children, families and educators of WA.
The children are counting on us. We can't give up. We won't give up. We'll do whatever it takes. So let's get to work!
Charter schools are put on holdSupporters of charter schools likely will have to shift gears this week from helping such schools get started, to running an election campaign to keep the idea alive.
A coalition of groups that oppose charter schools, led by the state's largest teachers union, said yesterday it expects to submit enough signatures by today's deadline to place a referendum on the November ballot that will ask voters to repeal a charter-school bill passed in March.
Kelly Evans, the campaign's manager, said she didn't have specific signature numbers, but that "we're confident we'll have the required plus adequate cushion."
"Voters have rejected charter schools twice," Evans said, referring to two charter-school ballot initiatives that failed in 1996 and 2000. "We need to be investing in what we know works: smaller class sizes and quality educators in every classroom."
But Jim Spady, a businessman and one of this state's most avid charter-school advocates, said the referendum would be a blow to students and parents who want the option of charters and now will have to wait at least another year.
The charter-school law, which was to go into effect tomorrow, will be put on hold until the state election's office determines whether there are enough valid signatures to place a referendum on the ballot. If there are enough signatures, it will stay on hold until the November election.
Spady also charged that the Washington Education Association doesn't like charter schools because it stands to lose members and dues. (Under the bill, new charter schools could not require teachers to be members of their local union's bargaining units.)
"This is about greed and selfishness, and putting the interest of union bosses ahead of the interest of children and teachers," he said.
Up until the past few weeks, it was unclear whether the anti-charter coalition, Protect Our Public Schools, could get enough signatures. But Evans said the campaign made a last-minute push, including hiring paid signature gatherers, something the campaign initially said it didn't plan to use.
"We planned not to, but we also knew that we might," Evans said. She estimated that volunteers collected more than three-quarters of the signatures that will be submitted.
The number of required valid signatures is close to 100,000; to be safe, at least 125,000 are recommended.
Signature gatherers were still out collecting yesterday, Evans said.
If the measure gets on the ballot, the anti-charter group will become the "no" on Referendum 55 campaign, because the measure will ask voters whether to keep the law, a yes vote, or to reject it, a no vote.
Charter schools are a new kind of public school, paid for with tax dollars but run by private organizations, and freed from many of the regulations surrounding public schools. They have more freedom to hire — and fire — staff members, to increase the length of the school day or week, and spend their budgets as they see fit.
There are now close to 3,000 charter schools around the nation. Forty states, plus the District of Columbia, have laws allowing the creation of [charter] public schools. Washington would be the 41st state, if the measure approved by the Legislature in March survives.
Washington state's bill was considered by many to be a modest step. It allows only five new charter schools to be created each year for the next three years, and 10 a year for the three years after that. The majority must be schools serving disadvantaged children. Existing public schools where test scores were low and not improving also could convert to charter status.
Teachers at new charter schools would not be part of their local union for five years — after that, they could decide whether to join one. Teachers at existing schools that converted to charter status would continue to belong to their local bargaining unit, although they could ask for waivers from some of its provisions.
To open, charter schools would have to be sponsored by a school district or the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, which would oversee them and could close them if they don't live up to the terms of their "charter," or contract. They would have to take all students who apply, by lottery if need be. They could not charge tuition. And, in this state, they could only be run by nonprofit organizations.
Charter-school opponents say that charters, on average, haven't proved to be better than traditional public schools and, because of that, they're an experiment that should not be allowed to go forward, when there are better-known ways to improve student achievement.
Evans said that charter schools would divert $1 million from public schools by the end of 2009. But Spady says that number is misleading because charter schools are public schools, just in a different form. And if the charter-school bill does not become law, the state will lose up to $3 million in federal money that it sought under a grant to help get them started.
Linda Shaw: 206-464-2359 or email@example.com
Charter schools delay is likely
Standing outside of Safeco Field before a Mariners game, hanging out at the Northwest Folklife Festival and having dinner with friends all became occasions for former Bellevue teacher [AND BELLEVUE EDUCATION ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT] Peter Bogdanoff to get a job done.
Over the last few weeks, Bogdanoff has been intent on helping to gather the signatures needed to possibly head off a new charter school law from taking effect.
Charter schools, small, independent schools run with public money, were voted into law by the state Legislature in April, and the law says that people may begin to apply for charters Thursday.
But by Tuesday, members of the Washington Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, had collected about 119,000 signatures to put Referendum 55 on the November ballot.
Forcing a referendum takes about 100,000 valid signatures of registered voters. Referendum petitions are due to the secretary of state today.
Typically, a quarter or more of the signatures in such campaigns are invalid for one reason or another, so getting on the ballot requires far more than 100,000 raw signatures.
If approved by the voters, Referendum 55 would block any new charter schools from starting up this year and prevent the state from collecting federal grant money earmarked for such schools.
Paid signature gatherers collected about 16,000 signatures for petitions, according to Kevin Teeley, president of the Lake Washington Education Association.
Charter school advocates denounced the use of paid petitioners to force the delay and the vote.
``We're going to lose millions of dollars that otherwise would have gone to help kids, and we're going to lose time,'' said Jim Spady, head of the Education Excellence Coalition. ``For the WEA, it's about union dues. They're the ones that are skimming the taxpayer dollars that are meant to help kids.''
It won't be the first time voters have gone to the polls to have their say on charter schools. In 1996 and 2000, charter school initiatives were rejected by voters.
Those two initiatives are the reason that Bogdanoff, a social studies curriculum coordinator and former teacher with the Bellevue School District, says the new charter school law doesn't make sense.
``The public is not thrilled by charter schools in Washington state,'' he said.
He and Cami Kiel, a teacher at Renton's Hazen High School, say that the state should invest its money in existing public schools.
``I think that the state has an obligation to provide funding for the public schools that we have,'' Kiel said. ``That's where they need to spend the money.''
Rogelio Riojas is not so sure. As the executive director of Sea Mar Community Health Center, a nonprofit agency that provides health services to low-income Latinos around King County, Riojas is interested in starting a charter school in the Highline School District in south King County for a small group of children who are primarily Spanish-speaking.
Sea Mar runs a state program for preschoolers, but Riojas finds that once those children enter kindergarten, it's not long before they are having trouble with their school work, largely due to language barriers.
``We believe they fall behind from day one and never catch up,'' Riojas said.
He hopes to create a charter elementary school that will use both Spanish and English to better prepare students for junior high and high school, thus giving them a better chance of getting a high school diploma.
Riojas is not unsympathetic to the cause of the WEA.
``I think there is a point to be made by the teachers,'' he said, but many public schools in Washington don't do an adequate job educating the Latino community. There should be an alternative way to educate children who are not served well by existing schools, he said.
While charter schools are not for everyone, he thinks they could help some children, and he hopes the referendum fails. Riojas has not approached Highline School Board with a proposal yet, but hopes to start talks in the fall.
The charter school law adopted by the Legislature would allow 45 new charter schools over the next six years. It would also allow school districts to convert an unlimited number of failing public schools into charter schools or -- in cases of severely failing schools -- authorize the state superintendent of public instruction to force public schools to convert.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. Nora Doyle covers education. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 253-872-6726.
Charter schools foes to file petitions
Opponents of the state's charter schools law promise to turn in petitions today to put the controversial education model before voters for the third time in a decade.
Members of Protect Our Public Schools coalition plan to file at least 125,000 signatures, 98,000 of which must be signed by registered voters to qualify Referendum 55 for the November ballot.
Upon receiving the petitions, Secretary of State Sam Reed will block the state charter school law from taking effect Thursday as scheduled.
That law allows 45 charter schools to be created in the next six years. Each school would have a five-year contract with a local education board exempting it from many state education laws.
Officials at area school districts, including Edmonds, Everett, Marysville and Mukilteo, said they have not heard from any group planning to seek charters this year. However, charter school organizers are not obligated to notify a district beforehand.
The Tulalip Tribes in the Marysville School District are exploring whether to pursue a charter school but have no timeline for a decision.
"We are evaluating the charter option," said Stan Jones, chairman of the tribal board of directors. "We are still looking at our own school."
Jones said the tribes are concerned about chronically low test scores among their children and need to look at all possibilities.
More than 200 calls have been received by the state Superintendent of Public Instruction since the governor signed the law, said department spokeswoman Shirley Skidmore.
It's unclear whether any applications will be filed now.
"It's really going to be a district-by-district decision on whether to accept them," Skidmore said. "They can take the pieces of paper, but there is nothing they can do with them."
It will be several days before the signature total is verified. In the meantime, supporters and opponents are morphing into campaign mode.
Referendum 55 asks voters whether to uphold the charter school law passed by the Legislature.
Protect Our Public Schools will try to persuade the electorate to vote no. Kelly Evans, director of the coalition that is heavily funded by the state teachers' union, said the law "would rob our public schools of $100 million in the coming years."
This economic argument was a factor when voters defeated charter school initiatives in 1996 and 2000. Snohomish County voters rejected charters in 1996 but supported them in 2000.
Jim Spady, author of the two defeated initiatives, said money is at the root of the fight. He said the teachers' union fears a loss of income and siphoning of members by nonunion charter schools.
"The teachers' union doesn't care if the kids learn. All they care about is if they get their dues," he said.
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