I-1240's Excruciatingly Close Vote: Money Can't Buy You a Landslide

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While charter school Initiative 1240 supporters declared victory over the weekend, opponents have refused to concede. "Not until every vote is counted," Marianne Bischel, People for Our Public Schools spokesperson tells Seattle Weekly.

*See also:Will Charter School Initiative 1240 Give Washington Its Won't Back Down Moment?

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That's how close it's been. Yesterday afternoon, with more than 2.9 million votes counted, I-1240 was winning by only about 44,000 votes.

The Seattle Times nevertheless called the vote in favor of the initiative. With only an estimated 217,000 votes left to count as of yesterday afternoon, it does seem likely that charter schools will be coming to Washington. What strikes Bischel as "incredible," though, is not that 1240 is likely to pass despite three previous rejections of charter school initiatives in years past, it's that this initiative didn't win by more.

"They spent $10 million!" Bischel says of 1240 supporters. Actually, according to the state Public Disclosure Commission, they spent close to $11 million--among ballot measures, only Referendum 74, with its $12 million warchest deployed to legalize gay marriage, topped that record--while Bischel's no coalition worked with less than $700,000. Money may be able to buy elections, but apparently not a landslide.

It's particularly interesting to look at a map of election results. Even more than pot legalization Initiative 502, the charter school's initiative broke the state's normal east-west divide. As you can see in the map below of election results as of yesterday, a solid block of Eastern Washington joined with King County in opposing charters. (Green is yes, yellow no.)

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In fact, some of the highest no votes came from the southeast corner of the state: The initiative was running 58 percent against in Garfield County, for example, while King's opposing vote stood yesterday at approximately 52 percent.

Bischel chalks that up to Eastern Washington's lower tax base. Without well-funded local levies, she says, communities in the agricultural part of our state rely on state schools funding, which will be spread thinner with the addition of 40 new charter schools over five years.

Garfield County Commissioner Wynne McCabe, speaking with SW, offers another explanation. "I don't think people here in Garfield County are very familiar with charter schools. I know I'm not," he says. "When you're not familiar with things you tend to vote against them."

He personally proves the exception to the rule by having voted for I-1240, reasoning "there need to be more options" in the public school system. Even so, he holds that charter schools aren't "relevant" to his part of the state. Garfield County, population 2,400, has exactly one public school for kindergartners through 12th graders, and McCabe doesn't reckon there would be either kids or funding for another.

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