You read it here first.
As the current legislative session began, the first post noting the risk to Senator Finegold’s aspirations due to his passion for the charter school industry appeared on BMG. On January 22, 2013 I noted:
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 Holmes, (D-Boston) sponsored a bill to lift all caps in what the charter school lobbyists describe as the 30 lowest performing districts in the state.
Senator Finegold joined Representative Holmes to file a package of bills that contained the legislative wish list of the charter school industry. When the charter bills bogged down in the education committee, House Chair Representative Alice Peisch resurrected the bill by reintroducing it and having it shipped off to the House Ways and Means Committee. Worcester School Committee member Tracy O’Connell Novick called it the zombie charter school bill, and it breezed through the house (114-35). In a dramatic roll-call vote last July, the bill experienced its second and final death when the Senate voted 30-9 to reject the bill.
The charter school industry wasn’t happy with the result, and let it be known that it was intent on bypassing the legislature by taking the lifting of the charter school cap directly to the voters. On July 30, the State House News Service reported:
It’s more than two years away, but charter-school advocates are already eyeing the 2016 ballot after the state Senate dealt a blow earlier this summer to the movement to expand enrollment in charter schools in Massachusetts.
Reacting to that defeat, and assessing their chances of changing the dynamics in the Legislature, the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association has begun reaching out to supporters in the business and education communities, as well as potential donors, to line up the backing necessary to mount a ballot campaign.
“We are taking a very hard look at it,” said Marc Kenen, executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association. “We’ll do some extensive polling in August and do a detailed assessment, but we’ve gotten a lot of support from potential donors and supporters in Massachusetts and across the country since the Senate vote, which I think surprised a lot of people outside the Statehouse circles.”
If all goes according to plan, Kenen said, the MCPSA could form an official ballot committee later this year to begin raising the substantial financial resources he expects will be necessary to prevail with voters.
“We anticipate it being a pretty expensive effort,” he said.
If Tuesday’s primary is an indicator, the charter school industry may want to rethink that ballot question. Many folks have observed that Senator Finegold’s deep ties to the charter school industry hindered his campaign for treasurer, and it may have been the difference between victory and defeat. The evidence is much more clear in Malden, where the Democratic primary for the 33rd Middlesex district was a contest between an ardent charter school supporter versus a former school committee member who supports reforming charter school funding and governance. City Councilor Neil Kinnon, the chair of the board of trustees of the Mystic Valley Charter School, was defeated by City Councillor Steve Ultrino, a former school committee member and secretary-treasurer of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees. The results:
Malden has long been ground zero in the battle over charter school funding and governance, and the two candidates were clearly identified with their positions on the issues. The charter school arguments did not resonate with the knowledgable voters of Malden.
Meanwhile, back in the Merrimack Valley, the winner of the Democratic primary for Finegold’s senate seat is Barbara L’Italien, a member of the Andover School Committee and former State Representative. If L’Italien wins the November election, her track record as a house member suggests her approach on the charter issue will be different than Finegold’s. As a representative, she filed legislation that would give cities and towns a role in approving charter schools, and she voted for a three year moratorium on new charter schools in 2003.
Barry Finegold is now out of the Senate. Neil Kinnon won’t be in the House. At this point, Charles Duane Baker, Jr. will be the biggest supporter of charter schools on the November ballot. If Baker is elected, he will be able to stock the state education bureaucracy with charter school advocates in the same way Baker and his Pioneer Institute allies used their appointed positions to aggressively expand privatization of our public schools.
Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz said in March that, “I’ve offered multiple proposals for balanced compromises. These proposals have been met with consistent ‘no’s’ from the charter advocate community, with no counter proposals that bring us toward a compromise.” The charter school industry doesn’t compromise. They push for more and more, they push for wins. They work very hard at lobbying, and legislators can expect to be swamped by emails from charter school parents whenever a charter school bill is on the docket. They are capable and willing to raise large amounts of money, and will throw everything they have into a campaign. They are a tenacious, well funded team.
However, they couldn’t get two of their own past the 2014 Democratic primary. Public opinion appears to be shifting, as well as the prevailing viewpoint in the Massachusetts Senate. The charter industry’s best hope for turning the tide would seem to require a sharp shift from a 2016 ballot question to the governor’s race.
Charles Duane Baker, Jr. will be able to count on all the money and energy the charter school industry can throw behind them. However, the full support of the charter school industry can be a double edged sword, with voters increasingly viewing growing charter school spending as a drain on local public schools. Just ask Barry Finegold and Neil Kinnon.