School Choice & Charters

Bill Gates, Paul Allen Back Wash. State Ballot Plan

By Sean Cavanagh — July 05, 2012 1 min read
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Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, along with a number of other heavy hitters from the business community, are pouring money into an effort to allow for the creation of charter schools in Washington state.

Gates, a native of the state and longtime supporter of charter schools, has contributed $1 million toward putting a ballot item before voters to grant charters, according to records on file with the state’s Public Disclosure Commission.

Supporters of the effort need to collect 241,000 signatures from registered voters by tomorrow to place the item up for a public vote in November. Washington is currently one of just nine states that does not allow charter schools.

All told, backers of the ballot item have raised about $2.3 million to get their message out, records show, and they’ve only spent $57,000 so far.

Paul Allen, who along with Gates was Microsoft’s co-founder, has chipped in $100,000 to the cause. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, who once served as president of California’s state board of education, has given $100,000. Katherine Binder, who’s listed as chair of EMFCO, a metals manufacturer, is reported as having given $200,000.

Mike and Jackie Besos, who the Associated Press identifies as the parents of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, contributed at least $450,000. Amazon is based in Seattle.

Washington residents have rejected ballot measures supporting charter schools on three previous occasions. Will the backing from Gates, Allen, and the rest put this ballot plan over the top? One factor to consider: Teachers’ unions are well-known for spending heavily on ballot items, and the Washington Education Association has railed against the charter school effort. So we’ll see how the action unfolds, and the money flows, in the months ahead.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Charters & Choice blog.