MTA seeks improvements in funding formula for charter schools

The MTA is pledging to work with the Legislature and governor.

The MTA is pledging to work with the Legislature and Governor Deval Patrick in the months ahead to achieve a fair funding formula for charter schools.

The Legislature is now considering two bills – one filed by the Patrick administration and the other at the request of Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino – that would have significant implications for the number of charter schools in Massachusetts.

The MTA strongly opposes both bills as filed. The association is calling for a better funding system and binding mechanisms to ensure that charter schools serve all children, including students who have special needs, come from low-income families, are English language learners or are at risk of dropping out.

“The MTA supports innovation and reform in all schools and encourages school districts and educators to work together to establish new programs and teaching strategies that promote student achievement and help close student achievement gaps,” MTA Vice President Paul Toner stated while testifying on the Menino bill on July 21 before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education. The mayor’s proposal was the first to be heard in the Legislature.

Funding losses hurt students

A hearing has been scheduled for September 17 on the governor’s legislation, which was filed in mid-July. That measure has the potential to create an estimated 27,000 new spots in charter schools in about 30 low-performing districts, according to The Boston Globe.

It would take away funding for these students from local budgets, resulting in losses to school systems that are already increasing class sizes, laying off teachers and other educators, raising activity and busing fees, and cutting music, art, physical education and other vital programs. Because of the districts the legislation affects, the very children most in need would be the ones who lose crucial resources.

“Doubling the amount of money that charter schools can drain from our highest-poverty public school districts will do great harm to our students and our communities – and it will be especially painful during the severe recession we are now experiencing,” Toner said in a press release when the legislation was proposed.

The MTA credited the governor for recognizing the problems faced by struggling schools, noting that he understands the need for Commonwealth charter schools to serve student populations similar to those educated by their sending districts. The key, Toner said, is to have effective provisions to ensure that mission is fulfilled.

“When charter schools initially came into being, there were lots of promises that their ‘best practices’ would be shared and replicated elsewhere,” he said. “Years later, this still has not happened. We are concerned there will be a similar lack of follow-through if this flawed legislation is approved as proposed.”

The MTA believes the legislation in its present form will not advance the goal of helping all students succeed. “A bill raising the cap without fixing the funding formula does not help public education,” Toner said.

Mayor’s plan jeopardizes education reform

Mayor Menino’s bill would enable local school districts to convert underperforming schools into in-district charter schools without teachers’ unions. The MTA believes the legislation would create significant unevenness and would ill-serve students.

“The passage of the Education Reform Act of 1993 established statewide standards for which districts are held accountable,” Toner said during his testimony before the education committee. He called the proposal “a throwback to pre-1993.”

“If passed, this bill would allow each community to establish its own definition of what constitutes an underperforming school,” Toner noted, adding that such a system would allow for “the creation of widely different standards from district to district.”

“Good education policy recognizes that schools work best when there is collaboration between parents, teachers, students and administrators,” Toner said. “This bill does not encourage this collaboration."

Nor would the establishment of a murky pay-for-performance system, as the bill proposes. The idea would undermine the kind of common efforts that are key to having good schools, Toner said.

He also sharply criticized the proposal’s attack on collective bargaining.

“This bill would set us on a path that we have not been on since the 1965 passage of collective bargaining in Massachusetts, since each district can establish its own criteria that could trigger a series of actions, including the firing of teachers without any due-process rights,” Toner told the legislators. “The potential for abuse in the decisions about personnel exists because of the lack of checks and balances.”

New formula needed

Like the administration plan, the one being advocated by Menino fails to address the most important problem with charter schools: the funding structure.

“Many school districts have been adversely affected as a result of charter schools draining much needed funds from the regular public schools,” Toner said.

The MTA plans to work with all parties in fixing the funding formula and addressing other issues as the charter situation unfolds in the summer and fall. As that occurs, the association will continue to promote solutions that will move education reform forward and to pursue positive changes based on the expertise of educators and their experiences in classrooms throughout Massachusetts.

“As we have demonstrated time and again through our commitment to the Expanded Learning Time Initiative and many other innovative programs, Massachusetts educators are prepared to collaborate with all parties and determined to help all students succeed,” Toner said.