October 29, 1996 in City

School Initiatives Lagging Being So Far Down This Late Spells Trouble For I-173, I-177

By The Spokesman-Review

Two statewide initiatives that allow major changes for public schools are trailing significantly as the Nov. 5 election nears, a new scientific survey suggests.

Just over a third of voters in the statewide survey said they plan to vote for school vouchers, while more than half said they planned to vote no on Initiative 173, according to a poll by Mason-Dixon Political/Media Research.

A slightly smaller percent of voters - 30 percent - told pollsters they would vote to allow charter schools. Opposition to Initiative 177 was just below 50 percent, and about one voter in five was undecided.

Being so far down this late in the campaign spells trouble for both initiatives, said Del Ali, an analyst for the firm that conducted the poll. “Undecided (voters) usually break against initiatives,” he said.

The poll was conducted for The Spokesman-Review, KHQ-TV in Spokane and KING-TV in Seattle.

Charter schools are a relatively new concept, Ali said. Even though they have been praised by both President Clinton and GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole, many people don’t understand them.

“There are so many different types of charter schools, I think voters are confused,” he said. “When there is confusion, voters often vote no.”

I-177 would allow parents or teachers to form non-profit organizations to run “independent public schools.” The schools would receive public money, but operate under the less stringent state guidelines applied to private schools.

Fawn Spady, who co-authored the initiative with her husband Jim, said the survey results were different from other polls she had seen. Polls conducted by the campaign have the yes and no responses about even, and fewer people undecided, she said.

The campaign’s pollster reads only the 25-word title that appears on the ballot. Mason-Dixon reads the title plus the official summary.

That could explain the difference in results, Spady said.

“I’d love to see everything be consistent, but that’s not the way things are,” she said.

But Kelly Evans, manager for the No on 173 and 177 campaign, said the results of the Sounding Out Washington poll are consistent with surveys she’s seen. As people make up their minds, they more often decide to vote no, she said.

The campaign is urging voters to turn down both initiatives, which are two very different proposals.

The Sounding Out Washington survey suggests there’s less confusion about vouchers, which are a more familiar concept, Ali said.

Ron Taber, sponsor of the I-173 campaign, could not be reached for a comment on the poll.

Taber, also a candidate for superintendent of public instruction, has denounced the newspaper’s surveys as “phony,” and on Sunday discounted results showing him trailing in his race.

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Education initiatives still trail

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