Adverse effects of charter schools are focus of State House hearing

“When did it become acceptable to take resources away from one child to give to another child?” asked Fall River Educators’ Association President Rebecca Cusick at the daylong hearing. Cusick was on a panel that included, from left, Nancy Everidge, president of the Taunton Education Association, Taunton Superintendent Julie Hackett and Taunton School Committee member Carol Doherty.

“When did it become acceptable to take resources away from one child to give to another child?” asked Fall River Educators’ Association President Rebecca Cusick. Cusick is pictured with, from left, Taunton Education Association President Nancy Everidge, Taunton Superintendent Julie Hackett and Taunton School Committee member Carol Doherty.

A steady procession of advocates for public education — including parents, educators, administrators, legislators, civil rights activists and labor leaders — underscored the destabilizing effects that Commonwealth charter schools are having on district public schools during testimony at the State House on Tuesday, Oct. 13.

The MTA and its community partners in the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance are among those supporting Senate 326, one of the many charter-related bills heard by the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education. The bill, filed by Senator Marc Pacheco (D-Taunton), would place a moratorium on any charter school expansion for three years and require all teachers in charter schools to be fully certified.

Members of MTA locals from around the state waited several hours in Gardner Auditorium before being able to testify on behalf of S. 326 and against legislation filed by Governor Charlie Baker that would expand charter school growth.

Union leaders joined superintendents and school committee members on community-based panels testifying about the adverse effects that charter schools have on public schools.

Several educators hammered home the point that the method by which charter schools are funded unfairly siphons money from traditional district public schools. At the same time, they said, charter schools do not face the same challenges as district public schools.

Several of those testifying provided data showing that district schools have far greater proportions of English language learners and students with special needs than the charter schools that enroll students from those communities.

“When did it become acceptable to take resources away from one child to give to another child?” asked Fall River Educators’ Association President Rebecca Cusick. Cusick described how students from disadvantaged backgrounds are particularly hurt when the traditional schools they attend lose significant resources to charter operators who “prey upon the hopes and dreams of parents.”

“If the wealthiest sent their children to the same schools as the poorest, schools would get everything they needed,” she said.

Ludlow School Committee member Jake Oliveira framed the funding issues in practical terms. The $300,000 being diverted from public schools to the charter schools attended by 19 Ludlow students this year means the town has to consider cutting five classroom teachers, he said.

MTA President Barbara Madeloni testified that the state should be focusing its attention on making sure all public schools are sufficiently funded and have the resources to meet the needs of all students, and she cautioned against creating a system of schools unaccountable to any locally elected officials.

“Charter schools place private interests over the public good,” Madeloni said. “We need exactly the opposite. We need more democracy and a stronger commitment to the common good, to public education for democracy, and to fully funding all of our public schools so that all of our young people have the schools they deserve.”

Pacheco said he filed S. 326 because he was concerned that charter schools, created under the Education Reform Act of 1993, were not meeting their original intent: to develop best practices to be shared with all public schools.

“We are spending a lot of money to benefit a minority of students in the Commonwealth,” Pacheco said.

Juan Cofield, president of New England Area Conference of the NAACP, and MTA President Barbara Madeloni listened to the testimony of Marlena Rose of the Boston Education Justice Alliance. Juan Cofield, president of New England Area Conference of the NAACP, and MTA President Barbara Madeloni listened to the testimony of Marlena Rose of the Boston Education Justice Alliance.

He noted that $419 million in state education funds are being diverted this year from public schools, which serve more than 96 percent of the state’s 1 million public school students. “I am here to speak on their behalf,” the senator said.

The packed public hearing began with testimony from state Auditor Suzanne Bump, who questioned the data provided by the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education — and often touted by the Baker Administration — to claim that charter schools outperform traditional public schools and that there is a long waiting list for charter school seats.

“After two decades and the transfer of millions of public dollars into the hands of private charter schools,” Bump said in her prepared remarks, “there is still little more than anecdotal evidence of outcomes to support the contention that charter schools are better suited to meet the needs of our students, and charter schools are still experiments.”

Civil rights activists Juan Cofield and Mel King also testified against charter school expansion, arguing that public funds need to be spent on schools that provide opportunities for all.

“Lifting the cap on charter schools will only widen the school-to-prison pipeline,” said Cofield, president of New England Area Conference of the NAACP, referring to the hyperdisciplinary policies employed by many charter schools that lead to students being pushed out.

King, a community activist and former state representative and professor in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, told the committee not to “buy into the hypocrisy of legislation” seeking to lift the charter cap.

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