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Initiative filed to create public charter schools

OLYMPIA – An initiative that would allow the state to form as many as 40 charter schools over the next five years was filed Tuesday with the secretary of state in an effort to get the proposal on the November ballot.

They would be “public charters,” meaning they’d be operated as nonprofits with the same academic standards as other public schools but exempt from some regulations on curriculum and budget.

The League of Education Voters, which filed the proposal, and its allies have less than two months to gather the 241,153 valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot: a short time span for most campaigns, although Costco managed to get enough signatures for an initiative ending the state monopoly on liquor sales in less time last year.

Mark Funk, a campaign spokesman, said the group would use both volunteer and paid signature collectors to get enough signatures in the short time available.

Washington voters rejected charter schools in 2004, and the Legislature has considered but never passed them. Legislation similar to the initiative was introduced with fanfare early in this year’s session with bipartisan sponsors, but it met with strong opposition from Gov. Chris Gregoire and legislative leaders in both chambers and eventually died.