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Home » Chalk Talk – R-55 and Charter Schools in Washington: Where Do We Go From Here?

November 23, 2004

A referendum named R-55 in Washington State would have permitted the implementation of the charter school bill in Washington State that was passed earlier this year. Despite passing the legislation with bi-partisan support and drawing a diverse and extensive coalition of supporters across the state, the referendum failed by 17 points. The unions who placed this referendum on the ballot have declared victory. As expected, union leaders have sung a familiar refrain, which they’ve used every time initiatives concerning education reform have failed:

“The voters have rejected [choice/charter schools] 21 times. The people have spoken. They would rather support their public schools then abandon them.”

The reality is that the voters have not really rejected choice or charter schools. Polls continue to show a majority support, year after year, nationally and across many states, for educational opportunities that allow children to have more than one option for their education, which are publicly supported and accountable.

In fact, in Washington State, the voters also rejected a tax increase that would have directly subsidized schools. If voters there were confident their schools were doing great, they would have happily voted for the spending referendum.

But the failure of the charter question in Washington State raises several important issues, not least of which is: Where do we go from here?

First, we must ensure that that the reform opponents who embrace the status quo cannot continue to abuse the democratic process. Unfortunately, we can’t keep them from swooping in to other communities with paid signature gatherers and hijacking the legislative process. But we can ensure that the public and lawmakers see through their rhetoric, and understand the true motives behind their campaigns.

But most importantly, we must learn from our mistakes in Washington State, invigorate our efforts to educate the public and add fuel to our legislative outreach across the country. There are actions that can and must be taken to ensure that substantive education reform continues to gain momentum across the country.

  1. We must elect progressive legislators who are willing to take a stand for educational options for all kids. And ensure that we continually hold these lawmakers to task.
  2. We must continue to shed light on the reality of the problems plaguing our public schools – and not just during the months and weeks before Election Day.
  3. We must organize our constituency and continually bring new allies to the battle for educational options. As a movement for better schools, we must commit to nothing less than going door-to-door until all Americans embrace freedom for parents and high standards for each and every school. That means we can’t lean on flashy television ads that can’t possibly do the job on such highly charged, emotional issues.
  4. We must continually call for further research to quantify the success of solutions such as charter schools. And this research must be more than a snapshot of student achievement; it must closely examine individual student progress from year to year.
  5. Finally, we must continually work to better understand what it takes to unite the passion of the people!

We owe it to the kids (who were the true losers in the battle for better schools in Washington State), and we owe it to the millions of kids nationwide who do not have access to the educational opportunities they deserve.