When it came to persuading Washington state voters to back a ballot initiative on charter schools, President Clinton wanted nothing to do with the issue.
In the final push in the failed campaign for Initiative 177, sponsors thought they'd found the perfect bipartisan pitchmen: Mr. Clinton and his GOP challenger, Bob Dole. The measure would have allowed residents of districts to vote to make them "renewed school districts" in which "nonprofit organizations may operate publicly funded independent public schools with parental choice and revised state regulation."
For a short while, the president appeared to be among the plan's backers.
"Independent public schools--chartered schools--are so successful that both President Clinton and Bob Dole have endorsed them," one ad said. "The president said, 'They are free of bureaucracy and can only stay in existence if they perform.'"
But the ads cut that statement after Mr. Clinton's campaign caught wind of the apparent endorsement.
Peter Knight, the president's campaign manager, sent a letter to several Seattle area news outlets complaining about the ads.
The ads, he said in the Oct. 23 letter, "seriously misstate the president's position on this important issue."
While Mr. Clinton supports charter schools that "are accountable to the public and open to all students," Initiative 177 didn't fit that bill, Mr. Knight said.
"Basically, this is game-playing, and they have the guns in the game," Fawn Spady, who spearheaded the initiative along with her husband, Jim, said shortly before the Nov. 5 vote. "Their goal is to make it as difficult as possible to get our message out."
Two-thirds of Washington voters rejected the initiative, which was vigorously opposed by the state affiliate of the National Education Association. ("Wash. Choice Proposals Go Down to Defeat," This Week's News.)
President Clinton has indeed endorsed charter schools as an innovative way to improve public schools. And he suggested during his re-election bid that they are a positive alternative to private school vouchers.
But charter laws vary among states. Conservative critics say the president does not favor charter schools that would radically alter the public school system.
--MARK PITSCH [email protected]