I-1240 Represents ‘Tipping Point’ of Education Reform in Washington State

When it comes to education, there’s much at stake Tuesday beyond the race for president. Voters in several states are being asked to approve significant changes to how public schools operate and are funded.

… Let’s start in Washington, which is one of just nine states that currently prohibits charter schools — campuses that receive public dollars but are operated more or less independently. (The degree of independence of a state’s charter schools depends on the restrictiveness of that state’s individual law.) …

To give its readers a better understanding of the debate, the Tacoma Times Tribune smartly sent education reporter Debbie Cafazzo to visit three charter schools in neighboring Oregon.

“Everybody in Oregon thinks Washington is a hopeless backwater,” Rob Kremer, the Oregon’s Republican Party treasurer who helped pass the state’s charter school law, told the Times Tribune. The Beaver State has 124 charter schools, serving about 4 percent of the state’s K-12 public school students.

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools points out that there’s plenty of enthusiasm for alternatives to traditional public education: Charter school enrollment has doubled nationally since 2007 to more than 2 million students, with another 600,000 estimated to be on waiting lists.

Nina Rees, president and chief executive of NAPCS, told me that Washington’s ballot measure is “a pretty modest attempt,” given that the legislation would limit the number of charter campuses to 40 over the next five years. In rating the aggressiveness of the proposed legislation, Rees compared it to “dipping a toe in the water,” rather than a deep plunge. With high-profile backers of this year’s ballot measure, including Microsoft founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, there’s hope that “this year is the tipping point,” Rees said.

“There’s certainly a lot of momentum,” Rees told me in an interview. “But track records of referendums generally, not just for education issues, is dicey. People go to the polls typically to vote for individuals, and they often don’t pay much attention to particular questions.” …

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