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Originally published October 23, 2012 at 4:49 PM | Page modified October 23, 2012 at 5:15 PM

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Op-ed: Reject Initiative 1240 and sending public money to charter schools

Initiative 1240 to create public charter schools is a distraction that masquerades as a solution to fund basic education, writes guest columnist Mari Taylor.

Special to The Times

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IN this election season, we’ve heard a lot about education. And that’s a good thing. Since the state Supreme Court demanded in January that our state Legislature must finally address inadequate funding for basic education, there has been bipartisan agreement that we must do more for all our kids.

Let’s not lose sight of this basic consensus. Because the task before us is so big, we must beware of distractions that masquerade as solutions. Initiative 1240 on the Nov. 6 ballot is Exhibit A.

I-1240 would use your taxpayer money to create 40 new publicly funded, privately run schools across Washington state. These new charter schools would serve less that 1 percent of our students. The schools would also be unaccountable to voters.

The real problems we have to solve are overcrowded classrooms, outdated technology and textbooks, and not enough teachers. The court was unequivocal: We must give teachers and principals the resources they need to ensure all our kids succeed.

Communities across the state have dealt with the wrenching process of shutting small schools down to close budget gaps. The new privately run I-1240 schools, with new facilities and costly overhead, would take $100 million away from communities that need every available resource for their existing schools.

Why would we take already scarce taxpayer dollars and make our funding situation worse? I-1240 would take us backward.

Even more troubling is that after years of study and experience in other states, there is nothing certain about the charter schools that I-1240 would create. Even proponents of I-1240 admit that there are no guarantees that their privately run schools would help children most in need or perform better than traditional public schools. I agree.

The most comprehensive examination of charter schools was performed by Stanford University. It found that only 17 percent of charters perform better than traditional public schools, while twice as many perform at a lower level.

By themselves, the kind of private schools I-1240 is selling will offer students and parents no added benefits. Success in education comes from a lot of hard work, parental support and involvement, and a shared mission between students, teachers, administrators, policymakers and the community. We know this because we have so many examples of great public schools that have embraced innovation and shown amazing results.

The language of the initiative is troublingly vague about how and when a failing charter could be shut down. There are questions about the lack of parental involvement in I-1240’s charter schools. Many parents and taxpayers dislike the provision allowing a new politically appointed state commission to authorize charters in communities over the objections of the locally elected school board.

Despite all the sound and fury, there is surprising consensus about I-1240. The state’s entire education community — the Washington PTA; the associations that represent principals, superintendents, and school board members; and the teachers’ union — has united in opposition to I-1240.

Some members of these groups actually support the idea of charters, but the lack of accountability and other problems with I-1240 are deal killers.

Other groups opposing I-1240 include the NAACP, El Centro de la Raza and the League of Women Voters. Together, opponents of I-1240 represent nearly 1 million Washingtonians.

On the other side, the financial boosters of I-1240 are a small handful of very wealthy individuals. They need to spend a lot of money to convince voters because the past three times charter schools have been on the ballot, voters have said no.

Seattle School District Superintendent José Banda recently told a reporter that he’s voting against I-1240, in part, because of the lack of community and grass-roots support.

We do not need false reform at a time when there is so much at stake, and so much that needs to be done. We do not need more empty promises about education. We do not need I-1240.

Mari Taylor is vice president of the Washington State School Directors’ Association and a current member of the Lake Stevens School District Board of Directors.

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