Barry Finegold throws away his political future

Whether or not Pablo's characterization of Finegold's political future is accurate, this is an important topic, and there's much to be learned in the comments. - promoted by david

Barry Finegold once had congressional ambitions. They are now history, because the state senator has taken the lead for school privatization. Finegold, along with State Representative Russell Homes, sponsored a bill to lift all caps in what the charter school lobbyists describe as the 30 lowest performing districts in the state. According to the Boston Globe:

A group of charter school advocates, business leaders, and legislators is pushing to abolish a state-imposed cap on the number of charter schools that can operate in Boston and other low-performing school districts, under legislation expected to be filed Friday on Beacon Hill.

The proposal would join a growing list of bills filed this week seeking to overhaul public education, making education one of the highest-profile issues that the Legislature is likely to confront this session.

Abolishing the charter school cap is just one aspect of the legislation, which is being sponsored by Senator Barry Finegold of Andover and Representative Russell Holmes of Mattapan, both Democrats.

I don’t want to get into the merits of charter schools. Some are really good. Some are awful. All, in Massachusetts, are funded by garnishing the sending districts’ local aid accounts. All are exempt from the whims of the legislative funding process, as the funding formula is an entitlement.

Let’s do some quick math.

In FY 2012, Lawrence spent $148,936,607 to educate 13,667 students. This is an average of $10,898 per child.

In FY 2012, charter schools educated 916.2 students at a cost of $11,035,514. This is an average of $12,045 per child.

Charter schools don’t pay to educate high-cost medically involved special needs students. Charter schools don’t have trailing pension and retiree health care obligations. Lawrence received $1,201,030 in charter facilites aid and an aid account that helps to pay for recent increases in charter enrollment. We can go back and forth on the implications of the cost and charter aid, but let’s look at the hard and fast numbers.

Charter kids: $12,045 per child. Public school kids: $10,898 per child.

What happens if the charter cap is lifted, and 12,000 students head for the charters?
The 12,000 students take (12,000 * $12,045) $144,540,000 with them. What’s left for Lawrence? $4,396,607 to educate the remaining 1,667 students, or $2,637 per student. Can’t do very much with that, especially if the remaining students include some very high cost special education students.

Yes, this is an extreme example, but it illustrates the inequity of the charter school funding formula. If the governor goes after state aid for districts with 9C cuts, the charter entitlements remain, and they are still deducted in full from the sending district’s aid accounts. If state aid is level funded or reduced, the charter formula remains unchanged. Public school district funding is subject to legislative appropriation, charter funding is a formulaic entitlement.

Senator Finegold’s move to lift caps without reforming charter school funding is a prescription to hurt the children remaining in the public system. It hurts kids. It should also hurt Senator Feingold’s career.


32 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. Sadly

    It might help his career since blindly supporting charter schools is now what passes for “bold progressive education reform” in the mainstream media and our political narrative. I have gone from a supporter to an agnostic, mainly because the data does not support the conclusion that they are so much better than conventional public schools, the funding inequities they cause, and the fact that they can feel free to select their student pool without legal pushback. Unions to me seem to be one of the least important issues in education reform, its more important to address income inequality, inequality in funding, and nationalizing the curriculum.

    • This goes beyond merely supporting charter schools

      Senator Finegold is now the legislative point person for the charter school industry. This will likely be popular with the Boston Globe, but would be a significant problem in a Democratic primary.

      • democrats support charters, too

        That would be a shame since charter schools are democratic. they allow choice. and many democrats support charters. it’s always been a puzzle to me how democrats can deny parents a chance to enroll their children in the public schools of their choice. Sen. Finegold supports all public schools and wants successful ones – whether they be charter or district – to flourish.

        • Seems like a special kind of "public"

          When the school gets to choose which students it accepts, based on criteria like disability and proficiency with English, it’s not as “public” as the town-run schools. Also, I think a lot of people, like me, are wary of the union-busting effects of charter schools.

          If you can convince enough of your fellow citizens that you should be able to enroll your kids in whatever school you like, then you can have that. That’s the democratic process; setting up special schools that deny access to certain minorities is not.

        • False choice

          If you’re so supportive of “choice”, then how about supporting cross-town enrollments? Why should someone’s residential address restrict their “choice”?

          If you don’t support cross-town enrollments (obviously problematic because of local funding issues), then you are in essence admitting “choosing to live in a certain town is the choice provided to you for your children’s education”. So why doesn’t that free pass apply when people choose to live near a school in an urban district too?

          Do you support opening charters in high-income communities? Wellesley spends a gazillion dollars per child on education, why can’t I open up a charter in that town so that I can try and spend those dollars more efficiently? They have no choices in Wellesley, do they?

          Your positions on “choice” just don’t seem that consistent, they seem to be clouded by a vision that says “urban schools = bad and must be destroyed, suburban schools = good and must be protected” – when in reality the issues are funding-related.

          In many cases urban schools spend less per student than suburban schools to educate a more difficult-to-educate population, and even when urban schools spend more, it is typically never more than 50% more per student than the worst-funded nearby suburban district – which means an urban district is expected to educate a classroom of 17 kids compared to a suburban district classroom of 25 kids to the same level of proficiency.

          A reduction of 8 kids in an urban class (50% less) doesn’t equalize the social differences between urban and suburban children – that should be really obvious if you just think of you having the choice of picking either a classroom of 25 upper-middle-class kids, maybe 50% of them have stay-at-home mothers, or a classroom of 17 inner-city kids, maybe 80% of them have single mothers. Also keep in mind that group of 17 inner-city kids will change over the course of the year, maybe you’ll end up with 10 of them who were there for the whole year, with 7 of them leaving and being replaced mid-year.

          Here are the stakes: if the urban kids don’t duplicate the test results of the suburban kids, you get fired. If the suburban parents don’t like you, you’re fired from that gig.

          Which situation would you choose?

        • If charter schools are democratic,

          then something’s wrong. They are supposed to be letting the market, not the voters, decide. And as long as they can choose randomly select their students with No Excuses discipline and inherently selective admissions processes, they are not truly letting the market decide.

          They are forced on communities regardless of voter preferences. So save the BS for someone else.

          Charter schools as PSINOs. That’s not Greek. Public Schools In Name Only.

  2. hola pablo

    a. Like my friend Pablo, I don’t want to get into a big hash about charters. I agree with your characterization of the variance in quality.

    (For newer BMGers, Pablo works for a district, I work for a charter. Back in the day we used to go round and round on this stuff).

    Pablo, I do wonder about your math. So I’m asking authentically, since I know you’re good at the math too.

    b. I went to the DESE website. Remember, the district gets reimbursed for every student who chooses a local charter.

    The top memo explains it.

    In January 2010 Governor Patrick’s An Act Relative to the Achievement Gap legislation expanded the aid formula. Where districts received 200 percent of each tuition increase in aid over three years, the districts will now receive 225 percent of each increase in tuition over the course of six years.

    So districts get paid for each kid who no longer attends, and Gov Patrick increased that amount.

    Like you said, good folks can disagree about the whole aid formula, and the “reimbursement” in particular. MA is the only state in the USA, I believe, that gives districts this reimbursement. So not easy to compare to other states to determine fairness.

    c. Anyway, then you can click on the 2013 rates spreadsheet.

    Titled: “Preliminary Charter School FY13 Tuition and Enrollment”

    It shows $10.6 million NET for 1,165 kids choosing Lawrence charters next year.

    So wouldn’t that mean, that after the state reimbursement….

    $9,180 of LPS money goes to each charter public kid?

    And a few cells earlier, the sheet shows…

    $13,086 of LPS money goes to each traditional school kid?

    • no caps on quality, pablo

      why should there be caps on the creation of quality schools? Sen. Finegold is obviously being courageous in advocating for more charters since the wrath of the teachers’ unions and the districts is already upon him. the premise that charters are “private” is simply not true. they are public in every way but they are not run by the district. as for the funding, districts are no longer educating the kids – why do they think they have the right to keep the money? parents (otherwise known as taxpayers) have the right to determine the best options for their kids. the districts should not limit choice. Sen. Finegold may have irritated the district by supporting this legislation, but his constituents whose children are stuck in underperforming schools or on long charter wait lists will undoubtedly praise him.

    • GGW, you certainly understand this

      better than I do. I read the DESE site.

      Is it a net loss or gain to send a kid to a charter school?

      BTW, I noticed ES doesn’t like you very much.

      • Hi Mark

        The net district per-pupil goes up slightly.

        Ie, if BPS spends $17k per year, and a kid goes to a charter, BPS will end up spending $17k plus a few dollars.


        *Real life teacher might not see that per-pupil increase. Could be bottle necked in central office.

        *Charter population. My district friends and I have agreed to say something like “charter kids not identical to district, but also not dramatically different.” So advocates on both sides sometimes misfire here.

        Anyway, in Boston, the average charter kid a few years ago was 0.2 sds above BPS average. Ie, charter Boston kid arrived to that school at 30th percentile on MCAS. District Boston kid was 25th on MCAS. So is it a net gain in non-dollar terms? Your call. Would you rather have, say, $16k for a 25th percentile kid or $15k for a 30th percentile kid?

        • Parents are different though

          There is a key screen which charter schools have at their disposal: You have to apply to get into one. That is, quite frankly, a huge advantage for them because it screens out all the parents who don’t give a rat’s ass about their kids’ education.

          • True

            But the application is pretty limited. Name and address. Done.

            In Boston, the charter applications get mailed to every single parent. It’s one of the things Gov Patrick did – made sure each parent gets the 1 page application.

            And in Boston, parents have to list preferences even for the traditional public schools. There are virtually zero parents in Boston who don’t “apply” to a school. And by “apply,” I mean some version of name and address on a form, and check a box.

            • Deadlines

              The big difference is that if you miss the deadline to register for a charter school, you don’t get to send your kid to that school. A corollary is that if you move into a community, you can’t enter your kid into the charter school mid-year (do charters even admit students mid-year, as openings occur?). Public schools have to take any kid, any time.

              I’m curious, what happens in Boston if you live there with a school-age kid, you get the form, but you don’t “apply” to a public school? I suppose you could live there unnoticed, but if you then decided, the day school starts, that you screwed up and you want your kid to go to school, what happens? I’m betting they take your name and address, and they tell you they’ll be sending a bus the next morning, right? That’s very different from a charter school (many of which make parental involvement mandatory)

              • Administrative Assignment

                Under the Boston system, if the parent fails to submit an application for a student age six and older due to start a “transition grade” (First, Seventh or Ninth) the School Department will assign the student to the school closest to home that has a seat. The parent will get a notice in the mail saying “here’s your kid’s school” and if the kid doesn’t go then they are violating state law.

          • Very valid point

            While the process itself isn’t complicated, the need to get a separate application for the charters is another set of hoops.

            Most people who are looking to register a child for school will wander down to the school department and fill out the paperwork. In Boston, including the charters in the central registration process gives everyone equal access to the option and empowers parents. Makes sense to me.

    • Hola and Mazel Tov, Goldstein!

      I’m a public governance guy. I have no problems with charter schools, but I have problems with the governance and finance structure. I believe that cities and towns that support charters should be able to determine if they want a charter school, to decide what a charter would look like (choosing the model and the charter operator), unless the state is willing to pay the price for the school.

      Given Mayor Menino’s support for charters in Boston, I support their efforts. I would like to see charters incorporated into the Boston student assignment structure, so everyone has a fair shot at charter seats during a central registration process. If I had a child in Boston, I would be happy to choose Goldstein’s excellent school. I am also interested to see if charters could work in Lawrence, where the public governance structure failed to adequately govern and oversee the schools.

      Eight years ago, I needed to voice an organization’s position on charters that was more black-and-white than the nuanced position I now hold. I think Goldstein and I could come up with a middle-ground policy that would benefit children in charter schools, children in public schools, and improve the quality of education across the commonwealth. The Finegold legislation, however, is the other side of the black-and-white argument, and does nothing more than polarize the discussion.

      Now for a direct response to GGW. I was using FY2012 data because end-of-year actual numbers are available for analysis. I didn’t want to get into a deep budget discussion, but I did want to raise the issue as a topic that should be subject to discussion and reform as part of the discussion of the future of charter schools.

      Here’s some facts that I want to put into the discussion:

      Commonwealth charter schools are expensive. They are very small school districts, and maintain their own district infrastructure. They need their won curriculum department, their own special education infrastructure, their own business manager, their own central office staff. Lots of overhead.

      Cities and towns have no choice. Commonwealth charters are granted by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, and the cities and towns who pay for them have no say in the approval process.

      Cities and towns who fund the charters have no oversight. While the funding for charters is deducted from Chapter 70 school aid, the municipalities who fund the schools have no say about governance. Charter board trustees are self-appointing, and the communities they serve have no say in the governance of these schools.

      Regional vocational high schools compete for students with the K-12 district high schools. Regional vocational school districts have representatives from the member towns. Regional vocational school districts must go to the appropriating authority of the cities and towns for the local share of the budget (amounts above state minimums are discretionary), and regional vocational school districts get their share of Chapter 70 aid subject to legislative appropriation. Why can’t we set up charter governance to emulate a successful regional vocational district model?

      • thanks pablo

        of course we could come up with something middle ground that made sense. why haven’t they put us in charge? :)

        one small note. i don’t think a 300-kid charter school is expensive in the curriculum department.

        for example, a typical charter would gather 4 math teachers in a room and let teachers make the call. done! zero cost.

        i’m not saying that a district is automatically inefficient here, but they do tend to employ curriculum specialists. example here.

  3. Finegold represents Lawrence...

    …which I would not be surprised if that city were receptive to just about any idea that might work better than their public school system.

  4. Maybe it was the $31K Stand for Children gave him

    • Nice call.

      They should rename themselves Stand for Self-Serving, Ivy League-Educated Sons of Note Liberals.

      Charter schools are what managerial class does to people who are too poor to pay taxes.

  5. Does Finegold really surprise you with this?

    He’s good on a lot of issues, but a lot of others reek of DINOism — definitely one of the more frustrating lawmakers on Beacon Hill.

    All that said, I don’t think focusing on him, in particular, is necessarily the best way to go about assuring a bill like this never passes. We need a broader conversation about public education in this state (and especially the nation), about what works and what doesn’t.

    A lot of people like to chalk up our success in this state on public education to the Ed Reform bill and these ‘new’ bad ideas that have started to take hold, like charters (and standardized testing — though that’s a different subject).

    Personally, I think we have the best educational system in the country because we have the best teachers — and for so many students in our state, they’re starting ahead because they have well educated parents and more stable socioeconomic circumstances than the general populace in many most states.

    Anything that drains resources away from our public schools — and charters are one of the worst offenders — means our students are worse off. Hopefully, that can be the end result of educational discussions, with a renewed willingness in this state to expand ed funding so we can focus on the things that really will improve our schools, like a longer school year, longer school days, with more time for extracurriculars, personal attention and help, arts and music.

    That’s the serious, but hard, reform that will help students. Charters, as currently funded, are a gimmick. At best, they’re an attempt to lift ‘the best and brightest’ out of our nation’s poorer communities, while simultaneously giving up on everyone else. I’m sorry, but I can’t support that, and no one should either. Every child deserves a world class K-12 education. Period.

    RyansTake   @   Wed 23 Jan 9:54 PM
    • Well, yeah

      It is a surprise because it is such a radical position on a controversial topic. If he has ambitions for higher office, I can’t imagine how he gets through a Democratic primary.

      • Just to dump on him a little more

        His kids don’t even go to public school in Andover, but instead go to the ritzy Pike School, where the children of millionaires and billionaires (yes, Andover has a couple) go, and their parents spend $5000 or more on their kids’ birthday parties.

        Finegold and his real estate partners (this is in addition to his law partnership) own half of downtown Andover.

  6. Allow charters anywhere

    Most of the state doesn’t live in urban areas, but representatives from most of the state will decide if charter schools will impact urban education.

    How about this: remove the restrictions as to where charters can be located. Allow them to open up anywhere. Let the entire population of the state be impacted by them

    Charters are either good or they are bad. They aren’t good for poor kids and bad for rich kids. If they are really about “providing choice”, then surely there are parents in wealthier districts who aren’t being served; give those parents a choice too (and take funding away from their public schools in the process).

    • Charter schools are what our

      society puts poor kids through under the pretense that it’s schooling, rather than poverty and everything that goes with it, that is too blame.

  7. Someone refresh my memory.

    What do charter schools do that traditional public schools don’t?

    If what charters do differently also yields better outcomes why not just direct the public schools to do those things rather than set up a parallel system?

    • Get money from rich people.

      Pay their teachers badly. Keep them working long hours for their short careers. Pretend to be innovative.

      Have smaller class sizes. Fewer special ed and ESL kids. Make kids attend school for extra hours. And expel kids with No Excuses\discipline policy.

      Why aren’t all of these things replicated at the real public school level? Because they cost more money than society wants to spend.

      • Sometimes the rich people are wasting their money

        With all the advantages charter schools have, you’d think they’d always clearly outperform town-run schools. Going by MCAS results, they often do,but in some districts they do not. Chelmsford public schools often outperform the local charter school, despite having larger class sizes, ESL kids and all the other things that real public schools must cope with.

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