I-1240 Draws Support from Former Charter School Opponent

Sixteen years ago, in another chilly October, parent and school-levy volunteer Lisa Macfarlane managed a phone bank for the anti-charter-school campaign.

Back then, Macfarlane believed charters — the privately run, publicly funded schools that were cropping up in many states — would weaken the public school system she was working hard to strengthen. …

Charters, she said, “felt like an attack on public schools.”

Yet this October, as the state’s fourth charter-school campaign heats up, Macfarlane, in a complete reversal, is working hard to bring charters here. …

Now she sees them as a way to bolster the public school system, by providing better options for struggling students.

“We’ve got to do better by a group of kids that aren’t faring well in our traditional public schools,” she said. …

Initiative 1240 would allow 40 charters to open in the state over five years. …

To date, polls show roughly 50 percent of voters saying they’ll approve I-1240 in November. But that’s less support than most successful ballot initiatives usually have at this point in the year, according to Seattle pollster Stuart Elway.

At the same time, he said, the measure hasn’t lost ground since the summer, as initiatives historically do. …

Supporters hope voters will be swayed by the popularity of charters across the country, which now number nearly 6,000 in 41 states and the District of Columbia.

They also hope many voters, like Macfarlane, will be willing to take the risk that Washington could attract charter schools with the best records elsewhere.

Macfarlane still works on every Seattle levy campaign with the same passion she had years ago when, after one levy failed, she was so upset she drove away from a gas pump with the hose still attached to her car.

As the sponsor of a successful statewide funding initiative in 2000, she’s probably done as much as anyone to increase funding for the state’s public schools.

If she still thought charters would hurt other public schools, she told a skeptical audience at a recent election forum, “I wouldn’t be standing here in support.” …

Macfarlane now directs the Washington Chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, a year-old group based on similar ones in other states. …

Impressed by her visits

[Macfarlane] came away impressed with the charters she visited, and was inspired to give them a try in Washington.

“You wish more kids could have that option,” she said.

Public schools do a great job with many, she says, but charters would give struggling students a better option. …

“What are we scared of?” she asked. “That they’ll work?”

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