"No on I-732, I-728, I-729"

"We don't like initiatives that impact the state budget process. Measures that mandate spending carve out a preferential position for recipients, leaving others to try and even things out through their own means.Three initiatives on the Nov. 7 general ballot would affect the funding of Washington public schools; while we support several in principle, all reflect the state Legislature's ongoing inability to deal responsibly with public education, and we urge a NO vote on each.Initiative 732: This initiative would mandate annual cost-of-living raises to public school teachers. But while there is no question that our teachers are underpaid - salaries have lagged far behind inflation for years - I-732 identifies no revenue source. This plan just gives one group of state employees an advantage over their peers, and would almost certainly hurt benefits or other programs in the long run.To be sure, the ongoing loss of Washington's best teachers, to better paying jobs in out-of-state districts and private industry, is shameful. But it is an issue that needs to be taken seriously, finally, in the halls of the Olympia, and the discussion must include the low pay for entry-level teachers. Initiative 728: Some lottery money, sales tax revenues and budget surplus dollars would be dedicated to public schools under this initiative. The plan was crafted by a consortium of citizens and adopted by Gov. Gary Locke, and wound up before the voters after it failed to win support in the Legislature.While we are confident the numbers add up, money spent here can't be spent elsewhere - including teacher salaries, which have been specifically excluded, we presume, to make the initiative more palatable to foes of public employee unions. It's real flaw is that it does nothing to address overall spending on schools; even if I-728 passes, there's nothing to prevent the Legislature from cutting other areas of school funding.As with I-732, the cause may be just, but the method is faulty. Both are band-aid solutions that would absolve the Legislature of fully funding Washington public education, a constitutional mandate it continues to ignore.Initiative 729: Backed by $2 million campaign chest from billionaire playboy Paul Allen, this initiative would allow the formation of charter schools around the state - 20 each year for the next four years. Charter schools are a curious cause, once the grail of religious conservatives trying to help their kids escape the onerous shackles of the state religion of liberal humanism, or some other absurdity. While the idea may have outgrown such connotations, it is ultimately divisive and a slap to the egalitarian notion of good public education for all youngsters.And this is not a cost-free proposal. Charter schools would sap off public funds for quasi-private institutions; for every kid who moves to a charter school, state funding would follow them out the door of the public school he or she left behind. That would in turn put more pressure on local property tax levies to make up the difference, and would widen the gap between have and have not districts.Supporters tout the great innovations in teaching that would supposedly sprout up in charter institutions, and we're certainly all for that (whatever it means); but we suspect the real benefit would just be smaller class sizes and more individualized instruction - which could be achieved simply by building more public schools.We're not sure what Paul Allen thinks about Washington's public schools, and frankly, we don't care. But just imagine what the $2 million he's spending on this initiative campaign would buy for some public school teachers somewhere.* * * * *Wednesday: 23rd District legislative races. "

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