- Associated Press - Thursday, July 28, 2016

TACOMA, Wash. (AP) - Major supporters of charter schools in Washington are spending heavily to defeat state state Supreme Court Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, who wrote last year’s decision finding the institutions unconstitutional.

The political action committee of Stand for Children spent $116,000 this month on digital ad buys and phone calls supporting Greg Zempel, the elected Kittitas County prosecutor, who is challenging Madsen this year, The News Tribune (https://goo.gl/O4p10B ) reported on Thursday.

It’s the biggest infusion of outside cash into a Washington judicial race since 2010. Madsen faces Zempel and candidate John Scannel in an Aug. 2 primary that will cull the field to two candidates for a Nov. 8 vote.

Connie Ballmer, a wealthy philanthropist and wife of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, donated $500,000 to the group. Its other main donors are Reed Hastings, the founder and CEO of Netflix; and Vulcan Inc., which is owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen.

Allen’s company and Ballmer were among the biggest financial supporters of Washington’s 2012 initiative to allow charter schools.

In the court’s 6-3 decision, the majority held that it was unconstitutional for charter schools to receive state money set aside for traditional public schools without being controlled by a voter-elected school board.

The Legislature passed a measure this year designed to fix the problem by funding charter schools with funds generated by the state lottery, but the statewide teachers union has vowed to challenge that as well.

Zempel has criticized the ruling and what he has described as the court’s general unpredictability.

Madsen declined to comment beyond noting that outside spending is an inherent part of having a court that is elected rather than appointed.

“We have an elected system, and people are permitted by law to make independent expenditures,” she said.

The education reform group recently endorsed Zempel over Madsen in part because of its concerns over last year’s charter school decision, spokeswoman Deborah Jaquith said.

“We have become concerned that recent decisions by the Court have reflected political beliefs rather than impartial judgment, most notably in their charter school decision,” Jaquith wrote in an email.

About 1,100 students attend the state’s eight charter schools, three of which are in Tacoma. Three more charter schools - two in Seattle and one in Walla Walla - are scheduled to open next year.


Information from: The News Tribune, https://www.thenewstribune.com

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