This November, a number of powerful people, such as Governor Baker, intend to spend $18 million to raise the cap on charter schools, and opinion leaders like Globe writers tend to support this. Polls seem to predict this expansion will pass. However, this ballot initiative has deep flaws in it that will harm public schools not just in Boston but in smaller communities. So, the progressive choice in November–the choice for sustaining quality public schools in our Commonwealth–is to vote NO on raising the charter school cap.
And since the polling indicates the progressive choice is behind in the polls, I urge you to ask your neighbors to vote NO in November.
That’s the gist of my post. But for those who want to, let’s consider the details of what we the people will actually vote on. This ballot initiative does not affect the currently existing charter schools but instead raises the cap so that the state’s board can create 12 new charters every year, taking up to 1% of the population of school children, every year for all time. Proponents will point out that the board will give priority to putting up new charters in places where test scores are low, but they don’t have to limit themselves to those districts. So a district with good public schools and good oversight by the local school committee can still see a charter school pop up there, taking dollars away from the public schools. The state board who decides whether to approve a new charter school does not consider at all whether a new charter will hurt existing public schools in a community. If they don’t have to consider whether it hurts public schools, then public schools will be hurt. Note how this “only 1%” mechanism can chip away at our system of public schools overseen by elected school committees. In ten years, 10% of the school age population can be in charter schools. Like Prop 2 1/2, this could have long term negative consequences for a public service that is as essential as clean drinking water. We should be wary when we are asked to reduce local oversight of a public good for the people in the locality who need that public good. This year’s ballot question of raising the cap will use one election to gradually undermine local democratic government for every year thereafter.
And that is something anti-Commonwealth about this initiative. A few wealthy donors and their lobbyists are spending $18 million not to give computers, art supplies, musical instruments, or books to Massachusetts kids but to unravel a system that is actually improving already.
Therefore, I ask you to vote No in November, and ask your neighbors and friends to vote No, as a way of preserving a public good in our Commonwealth for future generations.