July 12, 2012 in City

Charter school backers paid big bucks to get on ballot

By The Spokesman-Review
 

OLYMPIA – Supporters of a ballot measure to put charter schools on the Washington ballot for the fourth time paid more than $2 million to an out-of-state firm to gather the signatures that virtually assure them a vote in November.

Reports filed with the state Public Disclosure Commission show the campaign for Initiative 1240 paid about $2.1 million to PCI Consultants Inc. of Calabasas, Calif. A spokeswoman for the campaign had refused to reveal the amount spent on signature-gathering, or the company that received it, when supporters turned in signatures last Friday.

That expenditure allowed I-1240 to gather about 350,000 signatures on its petitions – almost 110,000 more than the minimum required to qualify for the ballot – in a little more than three weeks. The $2.1 million may represent a record expense for signatures to get an initiative on the Washington ballot. PDC records show it far exceeds the reported costs of gathering signatures for last year’s liquor sales initiative, about $1.12 million, which also qualified for the ballot quickly.

Some form of charter schools was on the ballot in 1996, 2000 and 2004, but each time it was rejected by voters.

The signature campaign for the charter schools initiative was bankrolled by some of the big names in Washington’s high-tech industry, including $1 million from Bill Gates, $100,000 from Paul Allen and $450,000 from members of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ family.

I-1240 would allow the school districts or nonprofits to open as many as 40 charter schools over five years, which would be held to the same teacher certification and performance requirements as standard public schools but exempt from some laws and district policies. The per-pupil allotment from the state would go to the charter school.

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