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Charter Resistance

Three months after Washington state seemed poised to join the ranks of other states with charter schools, its largest teachers’ union has, at least temporarily, pulled the state back from the threshold.

The Washington Education Association, which represents 77,000 public school employees, conducted a statewide petition drive to put a referendum on the November ballot that could repeal the newly minted charter school law, passed in March. ("Wash. Charter Backers Near Finish Line, Finally," March 17, 2004.)

The drive has collected more than 153,000 signatures, well above the 55,000 valid signatures that would qualify Referendum 55 for the ballot.

As a result, the charter law was suspended on June 9, at least until the signatures have been verified, according to Washington’s office of the secretary of state. The suspension will continue if the measure qualifies for the ballot.

The referendum would allow voters either to keep, or to repeal, the charter school law, which would allow up to 45 charter schools to be established statewide over the next six years, beginning this coming fall.

Such schools would operate without many of the rules governing other public schools. They would be open to all students in the state and would be required to meet the same or greater academic standards as other public schools.

The union, an affiliate of the National Education Association, contends that the largely independent charter schools would drain as much as $100 million annually from the state budget for its current public schools.

The teachers’ group has successfully fended off charter school legislation for nearly a decade. In April, its political action committee voted not to recommend the re-election of two-term state Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson—a former president of the state teachers’ union—in part because of her support of the charter school law.

Jim Spady, a charter school activist in the state, said a majority of the public supports the charter law.

Arguing that the union opposes charter schools primarily because its teachers would not be required to be WEA members, he is now campaigning to persuade voters to keep the charter law.

Mr. Spady’s Web site,, lists five schools that have either applied to be charter schools, or plan to apply.

—Andrew Trotter

Vol. 23, Issue 41, Page 24

Published in Print: June 23, 2004, as State Journal

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