Charter ballot question would ‘irreparably harm’ districts

 Thousands of students walked out of Boston public schools and marched to the State House to protest $50 million in proposed budget cuts. Some signed up to testify against the charter school ballot proposal.Thousands of students walked out of Boston public schools and marched to the State House to protest $50 million in proposed budget cuts. Some signed up to testify against the charter school ballot proposal.

Parents, students and educators testified along with social justice and community advocates at the State House on Monday, March 7, against a proposed charter school ballot initiative that could take as much as $100 million more each year from district public schools to fund Commonwealth charter schools.

While advocates were testifying inside, thousands of students who had walked out of Boston public schools marched from the Boston Common to the State House and from there to Boston City Hall to protest $50 million in proposed BPS budget cuts. Those cuts are caused by a number of factors, including the loss of $119 million to Commonwealth charter schools and the Legislature’s failure to fully fund the Foundation Budget Review Commission’s recommended school funding increases.

Dozens of students wearing stickers with the messages “Public Funds for Public Schools” and “#keepthecap” entered the State House charter hearing, and several of them spontaneously signed up to testify.

One of those students, Clark LaCossade, said he was concerned about the threatened cuts in AP and foreign language classes. “Budget cuts are severely affecting my education,” he said. “By lifting the cap and cutting the budget for BPS, you would be creating an us-versus-them scenario.”

Why don’t we have a ballot question bankrolled by $18 million from wealthy financiers to cut the wait lists for preschools?

— Lisa Guisbond, Citizens for Public Schools

Districts across the state are affected by the loss of funds to charter schools. In the current fiscal year alone, more than $408 million is being diverted from district public schools to fund Commonwealth charter schools.

At the hearing before the Joint Committee on Education, members of the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance coalition, of which the MTA is a member, warned that students attending locally controlled public schools would suffer significant harm under an expansion of charter schools.

The MTA opposes any lift of the cap on charter schools. That includes the provisions of the proposed ballot question — which are contained in House Bill 3928 — as well as any modified version of the plan.

In her testimony against the bill, MTA President Barbara Madeloni said: “Despite how it is framed, this harmful piece of legislation is not about allowing fair access to high-quality public schools. Rather, it is about restricting access to many students by putting public resources in private hands.”

“It is about the slow removal of local control over the education system that is at the heart of our democracy,” she continued. “If passed, this measure would irreparably harm school districts across the Commonwealth for generations to come.”

Local communities and their taxpayers have no say in the approval, spending or operation of Commonwealth charter schools, which are approved by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. The schools themselves are managed by independent boards of trustees.

The proposed ballot question would drastically increase the number of Commonwealth charter schools in Massachusetts and could cost district public schools up to $100 million more each year.

Charter schools also create a two-track system of public schools, described by the NAACP as “separate and unequal.”  Even though charter schools are required by law to recruit and retain high-need students, studies show that most of them fail to enroll as many English language learners, special needs students or economically disadvantaged students as their sending districts.

One way that charters push out the students they don’t want to serve is by suspending them, often for minor offenses.

HAS YOUR SCHOOL LOST FUNDING TO A CHARTER SCHOOL?

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A 2014 study by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice concluded, “Charter schools accounted for a disproportionate amount of discipline. While only 4 percent of Massachusetts public schools are charters, they comprise nearly 14 percent of schools with discipline rates (the rates of students receiving in-school and out-of-school suspensions and expulsions) over 20 percent.

When students leave charter schools during the school year, the charters often do not take in new students to fill those slots despite claiming to have long waiting lists. A study of charter high schools in Boston showed that only 40 percent of those enrolled as freshmen made it to graduation, compared to 80 percent of those enrolled in the Boston Public Schools.

A Citizens for Public Schools analysis of state data released last week suggests the number of students in Massachusetts affected by the cap on charter schools is less than 15,000, and possibly thousands less.

“Whatever the true number of students affected by the cap, this must be weighed against the tens of thousands of students who choose to attend district schools, only to have them closed or have their art or music or science or other valuable programs curtailed while public tax money is diverted to charter schools,” said CPS Executive Director Lisa Guisbond.

She continued, “We have, unfortunately, many wait lists in Massachusetts. Roughly 17,000 are on wait lists for preschool. There is solid research showing that quality preschool can shrink achievement gaps. Why don’t we have a ballot question bankrolled by $18 millionfrom wealthy financiers to cut that wait list?”

Visit the MTA’s toolkit on charter schools for more resources .