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Wednesday, August 29, 2012 - Page updated at 10:00 p.m.

Labor group gives $50K to defeat charter-schools initiative

By Brian M. Rosenthal
Seattle Times education reporter

Opponents of an initiative to allow charter schools in Washington reported their first cash donation this week — $50,000 from the SEIU Washington State Council, a labor organization.

The group of opponents, called People for Our Public Schools, previously had reported in-kind donations during its fight to change the wording of the initiative. Together, the group said in its weekly report, it has raised $68,593 for the campaign.

That compares to about $3.5 million raised by Initiative 1240 supporters, who began fundraising in early June. Supporters already have spent some $3 million, mostly on gathering signatures to put the issue onto the November ballot.

As in the past, representatives for both sides declined to respond to questions about fundraising goals and plans for advertisements.

In an email, a spokeswoman for People for Our Public Schools said opponents expect to be heavily outspent.

"Those behind I-1240 have deep pockets, but we have people and the facts on our side," wrote Sue Tupper, the spokeswoman.

Karen Hart, president of a Seattle chapter of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), said the group is opposing the initiative because of a recent state Supreme Court ruling that the Legislature is not adequately funding basic education.

"We believe (Initiative 1240) will divert dollars from the education system that is already severely underfunded," said Hart, who declined to say if the group plans to donate more in the future.

In addition to the SEIU, the initiative is opposed by the state teachers union, the state PTA, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP and El Centro de la Raza. The Washington State School Directors' Association added its name to that list Tuesday after a unanimous vote by its board of directors, according to a news release.

The initiative has the support of several business and advocacy groups pushing for change in public education.

Charter schools are public and free, but they operate independently of traditional school districts and can use unconventional techniques, including the hiring of nonunion teachers. Charter schools now operate in 41 states, with varying results.

Also this week, a separate opposition group called "No on 1240" reported its first $3,600 in donations, mostly from Seattle residents.

Brian M. Rosenthal: 206-464-3195 or brosenthal@seattletimes.com. On Twitter @brianmrosenthal.

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