SEATTLE — The group working to bring charter schools to Washington state has spent about $6 a signature to gather enough to get a charter schools initiative on the November ballot.
According to Public Disclosure Commission filings posted Tuesday, Yes On 1240 has raised a total of $2.3 million and spent about $2.1 million to gather about 350,000 signatures. Most of the money has come from Washington technology leaders, including Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, who donated $1 million.
The state of Washington requires 242,000 valid signatures for a ballot initiative to qualify. Backers used paid and volunteer signature gathers to collect signatures in support of Initiative 1240 in less than three weeks.
The initiative would allow up to 40 of the independent public schools to open in the state. State voters rejected charter schools in 1996, 2000 and 2004.
The campaign has attracted a number of other large donations, including almost half a million dollars from Mike and Jackie Bezos, the parents of Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos. The campaign also has received donations of $100,000 from Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and $200,000 from Katherine Binder, chairwoman of EMFCO Holdings.
About $150,000 has been donated to the campaign from out-of-state.
Netflix co-founder Reed Hastings, who is on the board of KIPP, a successful charter management organization, donated $100,000 at the end of June. Hastings is also on the board of Microsoft Corp. and is an investor in DreamBox Learning, an educational game company.
Democrats for Education Reform, which is based in New York but has a presence in Washington state, donated $50l000 to the campaign.
Initiative 1240 has not yet been certified for the ballot, but the Secretary of State’s office says it looks like supporters have gathered enough signatures to meet state requirements.
Initiative opponents, who call themselves People for Our Public Schools, have reported raising about $16,000 through the end of June, including donations of staff time by the Washington Education Association. According to the teacher’s union, their in-kind donation paid for an attorney for a ballot language challenge.
Rich Wood, spokesman for the WEA, said he has been told that the cash held by People for Our Public Schools is leftover from the 2004 anti-charters campaign.
The group opposing the charter initiative has a Facebook page but has yet to establish an official web presence. The WEA has created some handouts explaining the initiative and its opposition, which are available on the union’s website.
In 2004, proponents of charter schools raised nearly $4 million to encourage voters to approve a referendum that would have allowed the alternative public schools to open in Washington state. That proposal lost, with 58.3 percent against and 41.7 percent in favor of charter schools.
Bill Gates also was one of the top contributors in 2004, with a donation of $1 million.
A similar percentage of Washington voters rejected the idea of charter schools in 2000. That time around, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen footed most of the bill, donating more than $3 million.