Washington Charter School Authorization, Referendum 55 (2004)

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The Washington Charter School Authorization, Referendum 55 was on the November 2, 2004 ballot in Washington as a veto referendum, where a vote of the people overturned a recently enacted law passed by the Washington State Legislature.

R-55, if the voters had approved it, would have upheld a law authorizing public charter schools. Since the law was rejected, public charter schools are not allowed in the state. The schools that would have been allowed would have had conditions on their operation including that they would have to be operated by qualified nonprofit corporations, under contracts with local education boards, and they would have been allocated certain public funds.

The law challenged by R-55 was called Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 2295 (ESSHB 2295). It was passed in the 2004 session of the state legislature on its final passage: Senate: Yeas, 27; Nays, 22; Absent, 0; Excused, 0. House: Yeas, 51; Nays, 46; Absent, 0; Excused, 1. [1]

A "yes" vote was a vote to uphold ESSHB 2295, the public charter school law. A "no" vote was a vote to reject public charter schools.

R-55 had the distinction that Rosa Parks became involved, endorsing a "yes" vote.

Election results

Referendum 55, Charter Schools
Result Votes Percentage
Defeatedd No 1,572,203 58.3%
Yes 1,122,964 41.7%
Total votes 2,695,167 100.00%
Voter turnout NA%



Supporters of a "yes" vote on R-55, to uphold public charter schools, as listed in the official Voter's Guide included:

  • Dave Quall, Democrat, State Representative, teacher, Chair, House Education Committee
  • Stephen Johnson, Republican, State Senator, Chair, Senate Education Committee
  • David Shaw, past Pasco Superintendent and State Accountability Commission Chair
  • Dr. Sam Smith, former President, Washington State University
  • Raul Yzaguirre, President, National Council of La Raza
  • Rosa Parks, Mother of the Modern American Civil Rights Movement.

Arguments in favor

Arguments made in the official Voter's Guide by R-55's supporters included:

  • 30% of Washington public school students drop out.
  • More than 50% of African-American, Latino and Native-American children drop out.
  • Charter schools will help solve the drop-out problem, and other problems with Washington's public school system.
  • Charter schools, because they "reduce bureaucracy and empower teachers and principals to innovate", will help solve these problems.

alling through the cracks of our regular public school system.

  • To be accredited as a public charter school under this measure, "Qualified nonprofits run charter public schools under detailed, 5-year performance contracts. Like other public schools, charters employ state-certified teachers and cannot discriminate in admissions. Unlike other public schools, charters must pass independent performance audits."
  • "Charters actually generate more money for public education by tapping millions in federal and charitable dollars available only to charters."

In rebuttal to the arguments put forward by their opposition, supporters closed with this impassioned rhetoric:

"Progress"? Washington’s 30% dropout rate is higher than most and not getting better. Children trapped in failing schools need alternatives, now. Children slipping through the cracks need alternatives, now. R-55 doesn’t take money from public schools, it takes children out of failing schools. Failing schools waste taxpayers’ money. Dropouts waste taxpayers’ money. Approve R-55 and improve our public schools through more parental involvement, choices, innovation, accountability, independent performance audits, and less bureaucracy, without raising taxes.[1]



By voting to Reject Referendum 55, you protect the progress we are making in our public schools. You will tell the Legislature, once and for all, you do not want to spend public money on expensive, risky propositions like charter schools that, in other states, have not performed as promised. Vote to Reject Referendum 55 and tell the legislature that you want quality public schools for every student.
Washingtonians understand education. We know that to improve our schools we must reduce class sizes and put a well-qualified educator in every classroom. Instead of implementing the voter-approved initiatives to reduce class sizes and provide annual cost-of-living increases for teachers and school employees, the legislature passed a bill authorizing charter schools in Washington.


Charter schools will drain more than $100 million from public schools in the coming years and diminish our ability to continue improving all schools. Charter schools take money away from all students to benefit just a few.


Charter schools are run by private boards, not publicly-elected local school boards. This means that charter schools spend public money but are excused from being accountable to taxpayers.


Charter school initiatives have been rejected by Washington voters twice in the past eight years. Join the thousands of teachers, school employees, parents, the Washington Education Association, the American Association of University Women, the Washington State Labor Council, the Washington Association of Churches, and many others by rejecting charter schools—again. Reject Referendum 55.


All children in Washington deserve a quality education, but charter schools don’t deliver. That’s why Washington voters have rejected charter schools twice.
The New York Times recently reported, “Federal data show children in charter schools perform worse on math and reading tests than their counterparts in regular schools.” Washington voters already approved initiatives for smaller class sizes and a quality educator in every classroom. The State must fulfill this commitment first. Reject Referendum 55.[2]

Path to the ballot

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 Washington Secretary of State - Online Voters' Guide: Measures
  2. Washington Secretary of State - Online Voters' Guide: Measures


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