Two initiatives that would overhaul Washington’s school system appear headed for the Legislature, where they are expected to get a cool reception.
That would put both initiatives in voters’ laps next November.
One measure, Initiative 173, would create a voucher system allowing parents to use tax dollars to educate their children in either public or private non-sectarian schools, including for-profit institutions.
The other measure, Initiative 177, would let voters create so-called “charter” schools in their local school districts. Charter schools are publicly funded but privately run; they operate outside the control of many local or state regulations and union rules. Eighteen states now offer them.
The measures appear to have enough signatures to qualify for consideration by the Legislature. Backers need the valid signatures of more than 181,000 voters by Friday.
Both campaigns have used paid signature-gatherers.
Lawmakers have three choices once an initiative is before them:
Adopt the measure as written. It then becomes law without the governor’s signature.
Adopt the initiative and an alternative. That sends both to the ballot for voters to decide.
Do nothing. Then the initiative automatically goes onto the November ballot.
That last option appears to be the most likely for the school proposals.
Backers say the measures would inject competition into the public school system and give parents more choices. They also say the clout of the teachers lobby makes some lawmakers reluctant to adopt the initiatives outright.
“The teachers union is extremely powerful because it has so much money, and they don’t want to see change in a system they benefit from,” said Jim Spady of Seattle, co-chairman of the charter school initiative campaign.
The measures face an uphill battle in the Democratcontrolled Senate. That means there’s not much point in considering them in the House, said Rep. Bill Brumsickle, R-Centralia, chairman of the House Education Committee.
“I think it would be just spending a lot of time on a futile effort,” he said.
Brumsickle, a former public school teacher and administrator, also questioned the merits of the initiatives.
Both would bring major change to the state school system when it’s in the midst of an overhaul required by the 1993 education reform law.
“That won’t be fully phased in until the year 2000, and it deserves a chance to work,” Brumsickle said.
Sen. Sid Snyder, D-Long Beach, chairman of the Senate Democratic caucus, said he opposes the initiatives. “I think both would be devastating to the public school system. There would be less funding left for kids who need it most.”
Superintendent Gary Livingston of Spokane School District 81 agreed. “We believe these compromise the funding and mission of public education.”
Vouchers would drain tax money from public schools, and charter schools would have an unfair advantage competing for students, Livingston said.
“The real answer is supporting what’s been successful for decades: free access to public schools for all children, and high expectations,” he said.
Neither measure would allow spending tax dollars on parochial schools.
“Any parent who wants to use vouchers to send their children to Catholic school should not hold their breath,” said Ron Taber of Olympia, chairman of the voucher campaign.
The voucher program would allow parents to use $3,400 per year in tax dollars for their child’s education at any non-sectarian institution, public or private. That’s an average of the taxes spent per pupil statewide from all sources.
Under the charter school initiative, children would take the same number of tax dollars spent on their education now with them wherever they enroll.