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Sunday, July 15, 2012 - Page updated at 11:30 a.m.
Wealthy throwing money at charter-schools initiative
By Brian M. Rosenthal
Seattle Times political reporter
The list of contributors to an initiative that would allow charter schools in Washington reads like a who's who of wealthy state power players.
Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is in for $1 million, the parents of Amazon.com CEO Jeff Bezos have donated $450,000 and influential venture capitalist Nick Hanauer has chipped in $200,000, to say nothing of the six-figure gifts from the other Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and EMFCO Holdings Chairwoman Katherine Binder.
In fact, according to campaign-finance records, the $2.3 million given to Initiative 1240 so far includes just three families that have donated less than $50,000 — and only one family that has contributed less than $1,000.
That's Claude and Joan Pray, from Lake Stevens, who each donated $12.50.
It was all the day-care employee and her husband, a retired Boeing employee, could afford, Joan Pray, 64, said.
"It feels like a drop in the ocean, but it's OK. We're in with good people of like mind, I guess," she said, adding that she also collected seven signatures — from two co-workers, her daughter and a few other family members.
Claude Pray, 67, said the couple supports charter schools because four of their nieces and nephews attended a good one, Coeur d'Alene Charter Academy in Idaho.
Initiative supporters say their fundraising operation is just getting started and will soon include lots of small donors. But as of now, the Prays' status as the lone small donor represents a challenge facing the campaign as it gears up for another attempt to convince voters that charters belong in Washington.
Charter schools — public schools that operate independently of traditional school districts — have been rejected here three times, in 1996, 2000 and 2004.
This year could be different, the supporters say. They point to the fact the initiative gathered more than 350,000 signatures in 18 days before last week's signature deadline.
But The Associated Press reported earlier this week that the coalition spent about $6 for each signature it received. Public-disclosure documents show that initiative supporters paid about $2 million to PCI Consultants, a California-based signature-gathering company.
It remains to be seen if the initiative can get donations — and votes — from regular people like the Prays.
The Prays themselves aren't sure the initiative will pass.
"I don't know — Washington is so liberal," Joan Pray said. "I guess we'll see."
Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or email@example.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.
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