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Most Schools-Chief Candidates Oppose Charter Initiative

Ann Dornfeld

The initiative to allow charter schools in Washington has qualified for the fall ballot. But four of the five candidates for Superintendent of Public Instruction oppose the measure.


State Superintendent of Public Instruction Randy Dorn once tried to bring charter schools to Washington. When he was chair of the House K–12 Education Committee in 1993, he co–sponsored a bill to legalize charters.

Dorn says at the time, he liked charters' experimental nature. Today, though, Dorn says the push for charter schools is often less about innovation and more about doing away with the public school system. He questions who will profit if Initiative 1240 passes.

Randy Dorn: "I think it's always an interesting issue when corporations are putting in a large sum of money. And I understand 'nonprofit' is in the initiative, but lots of times a nonprofit hires a company to do the work. And so I have a lot of concerns about companies making money off of public education."

The charter school initiative has been funded in large part by Bill Gates, Wal–Mart heiress Alice Walton, and the parents of founder Jeff Bezos.

I–1240 would create a new state commission to govern the charter system. Dorn says that's unconstitutional, that K–12 governance is limited to his office. And he objects to the clause that says low–performing schools would be given priority for charter status.

Randy Dorn: "So that doesn't just lock it in to low–performing schools, it means it could go beyond that to Mercer Island or areas like that. So I don't think that's what that tool should be used for."

KUOW asked Dorn if he'd accept charter schools if they pass, or if he'd contest the initiative. Dorn said, "I will examine my options if it does actually pass."

In the meantime, he's campaigning to keep his seat as schools chief. His four opponents haven't raised any money or launched major campaigns, but they tend to agree with Dorn when it comes to the charter schools initiative.

Candidate James Bauckman says he's worked at charters in other states, but doesn't think Washington needs them in order to be innovative.

Candidate Don Hansler says he wants the effective elements of charter schools to be worked into the existing school system. He doesn't want to add another layer of bureaucracy.

Candidate Ron Higgins says he supports charters in general to encourage competition, but he wants elected school boards to maintain control of public schools.

The only candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction who supports I–1240 is John Blair. He says he supports all opportunities for more school choice.

Washington is one of only nine states that don't allow charter schools. Voters in this state have rejected charters three times.

I'm Ann Dornfeld, KUOW News.

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