Massachusetts Charter School Opponents Rally Against Expansion

(Image: Jesse Costa, WBUR)

(Image: Jesse Costa, WBUR)

Parents and teachers union members holding signs reading "Save Our Public Schools" gathered on the steps of the State House in Boston as part of a campaign against a measure that seeks to increase the presence of charter schools in the state. The vote will come in November in the form of a proposed question that is aimed at lifting the cap on charter school expansion.

President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association Barbara Madeloni says the question on the ballot could make it possible for entire districts to be taken over by charters. Joining Madeloni at the rally were Marlena Rose, coordinator for the Boston Education Justice Alliance, Juan Cofield, president of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP and chair of the Campaign to Save Our Public Schools, and Worcester City Councilor Khrystian King.

Cofield reported that the hundreds of millions of dollars taken out of district public schools' coffers and sent to charter schools has resulted in an unequal "two-tiered" funding system.

Governor Charlie Baker and the group he backs, Great Schools Massachusetts, call the cap outdated, arbitrary, and unjust. They say 34,000 students who want to attend a charter school are on a waiting list because of enrollment caps.

"Here are the facts: charter schools are public schools, created by law 23 years ago to provide educational choices and opportunities to Massachusetts' families, particularly those in underserved communities," a campaign spokeswoman said in an email on Wednesday.

The Republican's Gintautas Dumcius reports that opponents say charter schools are privately managed and publicly funded. But earlier this month, 80 Hispanic leaders said that raising the cap would "level the playing field" for kids of color who are living in poverty.

Other issues that concern those opposed to the continued growth of charter schools are the potentially adverse effects of the strict disciplinary policies at charter schools and the absence of any control by school committees and local officials, reports Katie Lannan for The Lowell Sun.

Mr. Cofield suggested that the state would be better off if, instead of pushing the growth of charters, it would spend more time trying to discover solutions for the problems that exist in traditional public schools.

A press release published on Wednesday by the Campaign to Save Our Public Schools stated that Pittsfield would not receive $2,043,031 in state Chapter 70 funding because that amount would be diverted to charter schools. Statewide, charter schools are receiving $408,672,674 in diverted dollars from 243 local school district budgets.

The release also stated that some charters keep students they choose not to serve out by high rates of suspension for minor offenses. Even though Massachusetts' publicly funded schools are made up of only 4% charter schools, they accounted for almost 14% of the state schools with discipline rates over 20% in 2014, according to The Berkshire Eagle.

Laura Newberry of The Republican writes that a recent federal education data analysis reported that students with disabilities and black students are suspended from charter schools in higher numbers than their white and non-special needs counterparts.

Students with disabilities have a two to three times greater chance of being suspended than non-disabled students. African-American children are four times as likely to be suspended than their white peers.

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