This guest column is by Brendan Williams, a deputy state insurance commissioner and a former state representative.
They’re at it again: Wealthy special interests spending millions to purchase a ballot measure.
In 2010, Coke and Pepsi spent $16.8 million to pass Initiative 1107, repealing taxes on soda, candy, and bottled water. In 2011, Costco and other retailers spent $22.6 million on Initiative 1183, replacing our state-run liquor monopoly with a more-expensive big box store monopoly.
Now we have Initiative 1240, a $10 million campaign to approve charter schools, backed by a handful of billionaires. Never mind our schools being underfunded by billions, Bill Gates ($3 million), Wal-Mart heir Alice Walton ($1.7 million), the Bezos family ($1 million), and Connie Ballmer ($500,000) promise that 40 charter schools will fix everything!
Gates attended the exclusive Lakeside School, while Ballmer is its immediate past chair (Arkansas’s Walton is a leading funder of Republican Super PACs). Lakeside tuition runs $27,250 a year; by contrast, my son's Olympia school district spends an average of $9,422 per student.
It is safe to say that these affluent I-1240 proponents personal experience of public schools is largely confined to what they have read in newspapers.
According to US Census data, Washington has the lowest ratio of K-12 workers to population of any state in the nation—29 percent below the national average, 45 percent below Texas. Rick Perry's Texas! So spreading our limited funding across 40 new schools will only make things worse.
My public school’s first grade class in Northeast Portland was 30 percent white, and we somehow survived (even after later being bused to integrate a middle school), yet the wealthy, all-white benefactors of I-1240 shamelessly flog images of ethnic minorities. They make it appear that I-1240 alone will somehow overcome disparities poor kids face or the property tax inequities that conspire against them. From a socioeconomic perspective, it’s a shockingly cynical appeal being financed by those who have no people of color in their social circles.
In the face of I-1240’s cashalanche, voters may finally succumb to charter schools on the fourth attempt to implement them at the ballot. If so, the success of such schools will likely be measured—as has been true nationally—by their success in weeding out kids with special needs like my 10-year-old nephews.
In 1911, William Chandler Bagley published a book entitled, Craftsmanship in Teaching.
In it, he asked, “When will the public cease to insult the teacher's calling with empty flattery? When will men who would never for a moment encourage their own sons to enter the work of the public schools cease to tell us that education is the greatest and noblest of all human callings?”
A century later, I-1240 is yet another example of lip service to the nobility of public education without any accompanying commitment of resources. Further, charter schools are pushed by those seeking to undermine the Democratic Party by alienating its stalwarts. Former District of Columbia School Chancellor Michelle Rhee, masquerading as a Democrat, recently wrote in the Washington Post that unionized teachers “isolate themselves from the broader Democratic Party.” I wonder what Jay Inslee thinks about that, given the $1.3 million teachers’ unions have spent opposing Rob McKenna?
Don’t let public school kids be guinea pigs for experiments by the super-rich. Vote no on I-1240.