I-1240 is a Real Step to Bring More Innovation Into Our Public Schools

The education reform movement has been gaining speed across the country, and a pair of important ballot initiatives next week in Washington and Idaho will either extend or retard that progress.

Evergreen State voters will decide on Initiative 1240, which would allow up to 40 charter schools over a five-year period. A mere 40 charters sounds very modest in a state with 2,345 public schools. But Washington is one of only nine states that has no charter schools, and three times—in 1996, 2000 and 2004—the Washington Education Association and its union allies have used their dues money and scare tactics to defeat charter initiatives.

The losers have been Washington students, about one in four of whom fails to graduate from high school in four years. That puts the state 37th in the nation for high school completion. Fewer than half of fourth and eighth graders were proficient on national reading and math tests in 2011.

These sorry results have inspired some of Washington’s biggest business names to back the charter initiative. Microsoft founder Bill Gates has chipped in more than $1 million to the “yes” campaign. Other contributors include Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the parents of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, and Seattle venture capitalist Nick Hanauer, among others. …

It’s notable that reform opponents in both states are making a conservative pitch to voters. They claim that charters and merit pay waste taxpayer money and that state-level reforms are a power grab that strips parents of local control. The truth is that the unions control these school districts, denying parents much of any say. …

These tactics reveal that the [traditional attack lines] about charters “siphoning” money from public schools, or that reformers hate teachers, aren’t working. Here’s hoping voters in both Washington and Idaho see through the latest union ruse and keep the reform momentum going.

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