Madeloni: Charter schools "accept a slice of students while taking a growing share of the state education dollar"

MTA President Barbara Madeloni delivered the following testimony before the Joint Committee on Education in favor of Senate Bill 326, An Act Establishing a Moratorium for Commonwealth Charter Schools, on Oct. 13, 2015.

I am Barbara Madeloni, president of the 110,000-member Massachusetts Teachers Association, and I am here to urge you to support Senate Bill 326, An Act Establishing a Moratorium for Commonwealth Charter Schools.

I became an educator because I saw a need for us to deepen our commitment to public education as foundational to democracy. Here in Massachusetts, we established long ago that every young person would be guaranteed a public education — funded by the Commonwealth.

This promise emerges from the conviction that our democracy depends upon a well-educated citizenry. It rests on the idea that public education for democracy grows within a democratic structure. It encompasses the hope of democratic communities as places of diversity, respect for difference, and empathy, grounded in a duty to serve the common good. It is an amazing commitment we have made — and one we should cherish and nurture.

“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.”

Charter schools are privately run institutions, separate from any democratic oversight by the communities they serve. They are often opened against the will of the people in the affected cities and towns. They accept a slice of students while taking a growing share of the state education dollar. They siphon needed resources from our truly public schools.

Governor Baker’s charter school proposal threatens to completely undermine our state’s public education system. His plan would accelerate the dangerous direction in which we are already headed: toward a two-track education system, with one part truly public and the other private, but financed with public dollars.

Most charter schools serve a smaller percentage of English language learners, special education students and economically disadvantaged students than their sending districts. Most charters lose a significant number of students between the first year of their programs and the last, driving out students who can’t meet their disciplinary demands or whose academic and social needs are significant. And most have very high teacher turnover rates that are disruptive for students and staff alike.

A Boston Opportunity Agenda study released in January found that graduates of the Boston Public Schools go on to graduate from college at a higher rate than Boston’s charter school students. Isn’t it important to find out why? Is it that the tightly controlled, hyper-disciplinary model of education that most charters adopt doesn’t help students learn how to function in the world after they get out? Could it be that when instruction and motivation are geared toward getting high test scores, students flounder when the goal in college is learning for understanding?

You will hear more about the many issues involving charter schools through the course of the day, but I want to end by refocusing on the danger that is at work when we abandon our faith in democratic processes and our commitment to providing the best public education for every student in the Commonwealth.

Charter schools place private interests over the public good. 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.

Action Alert Click here to send messages to your state representative and senator about why lifting the cap on charter schools is bad for students, educators and communities.

For more, visit the MTA's toolkit on charter schools.