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Public education honchos gather in anti-charter schools camp

Gabriel Spitzer

Some prominent education officials, including the top dogs in Seattle and in Washington State, want voters to reject a ballot measure that would allow up to 40 charter schools in Washington. Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn is announcing his opposition to Initiative 1240 Thursday morning, the day after Seattle School Board members voted unanimously to oppose the ballot measure. Seattle Superintendent Jose Banda recently reiterated his personal disapproval of the initiative as well. Imitative 1240 does have endorsements from a number of teachers and administrators.

Seattle School Board members called charters a distraction from the real problem confronting Washington’s public schools: a lack of funding. And they warned that creating charter schools – independent, public schools unshackled from restrictions and red tape – would divert resources from strapped traditional schools.

The public testimony was heavily skewed toward their side. Commentors like Kate Martin argued charter schools simply haven’t shown they’re effective.

“The Mendoza Line was created when Mariner Mario Mendoza couldn’t bat above .200. Charter schools are batting below the Mendoza Line. Only 17 percent outperform publicly funded and publicly managed public schools. That is pathetic,” Martin said.

Charter school backers said they were disappointed in the board’s public show of opposition. Shannon Campion of Washington’s chapter of Stand for Children is a spokeswoman for the initiative.

“Six hundred-thousand students on waiting lists today in America to get into public charter schools, I mean are those kids and their families wrong? I don’t think so,” Campion said.

She said charter schools don’t leech money from other schools, because public funding follows the students, wherever they go. She also cited the backing of educators and elected officials, from the mayor of Tacoma up to President Barack Obama.

I-1240 would allow up to 40 charter schools, run by non-religious non-profits, to launch over 5 years.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.