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TechNet backs charter schools

As promised, the bipartisan lobbying group endorses its first education initiative in California.

As promised, the bipartisan lobbying group Technology Network endorsed its first education initiative today in California.

The move will be closely watched by skeptics who say the group, launched last summer, is just out to reduce "frivolous" lawsuits through national securities reform legislation, although improving education was listed as equally important for the organization.

Today, Silicon Valley venture capitalist John Doerr, Technology Network's cochair, endorsed a campaign to put on the November ballot a measure that would expand charter schools.

The initiative would lift the state's current cap of 100 public charter schools and let the schools compensate administrators and educators based on performance. The measure also states that within three years, student achievement in charter schools must "exceed the average achievement of similar students" in noncharter ones; otherwise, the charter will be repealed.

"The Technology Network's board of directors overwhelmingly voted to back the Charter Public School Initiative because for California to succeed in the new economy, we must vastly improve our most important business resource: our public school system," Doerr said in a statement. "This mainstream measure is an important first step."

Proponents say charter schools give parents and communities more choices and power to improve their children's education, reward teachers who show innovation, and force bad schools out of the "market" through competition.

But groups who oppose the expansion of charter schools, such as the California Teachers Association, charge that the November ballot measure removes the current law's provisions that local school boards approve charter schools and oversee their budgets. It also would remove the requirement that half of a school's teachers must support a bid to transform to a charter.

The CTA also argues that the program shouldn't be expanded until teachers have collective bargaining rights and after only state-credentialed educators are hired at public charter schools. The CTA is now calling for an evaluation of the existing program.

"The free market is for the private sector, but you can't freewheel with tax dollars," said Sharon Scott Down, who follows charter schools for the CTA.

But the Technology Network's support is likely to boost the charter school initiative. The group has had notable success pushing forward federal securities litigation reform, which is expected to be voted on by the House and Senate this year. President Clinton has indicated that he will sign the bill if it's passed by Congress.