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Published: Wednesday, November 7, 2012, 10:08 p.m.

Charter schools measure leads by a slim margin

SEATTLE -- More ballots have been counted, but the results are still unclear for Washington's charter schools initiative.
With about half of the expected ballots counted by Wednesday evening, Initiative 1240 was passing with 51 percent of the vote. But many ballots will continue to trickle in throughout the week, since Washington is a vote-by-mail state and ballots only needed to be postmarked by Tuesday.
This is the fourth time the proposal has been on the ballot in Washington state, where voters rejected charter schools in 1995, 2000 and 2004.
If voters approve the measure, Washington would become the 42nd state to allow the public independent schools.
Supporters say the charter proposal would offer new choices for struggling kids and their families. Opponents say charters have a mixed track record in other states and they would take away money from regular public schools.
Proponents of charter schools raised more than $10 million to promote the idea, including $3 million from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
The proposal would open as many as 40 charter schools over five years.
Some of the most successful charter school organizations in the nation say they would like to open schools in Washington state if voters approve the measure.
Under the terms of the initiative, any nonprofit organization could start a charter school in Washington if their plan is approved by either a new statewide commission or a local school board that has been authorized by the state school board to approve charter schools.
The schools would need to be free and open to all students just like traditional public schools. They would receive public funding based on student enrollment, just like other schools. But public charter schools would be exempt from some state regulations, including some of the rules regarding the hiring and firing of teachers.
The Washington initiative was based on a model law created by the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools.

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