Speciously speaking for the charter school industry

Some excellent wonkery in this post. On the other side of the debate, however, see this recent study from Brookings, which concludes that "Massachusetts’ charter cap currently prevents expansion in precisely the urban areas where charter schools are doing their best work. Lifting the cap will allow more students to benefit from charter schools that are improving test scores, college preparation, and college attendance." - promoted by david

Martha M. “Marty” Walz, a former state representative from the Eighth Suffolk district, and former chair of the House Education Committee, is now a senior advisor to Democrats for Education Reform – Massachusetts.

On Tuesday, September 13, she participated in a charter school debate with Boston City Councillor Tito Jackson on WBUR. At 56:30 into the debate (video below), Ms. Walz says:

We’ve been doing these district reimbursements for 17 years, and they have been fully funded in nearly every year except in the depths of the recession. The state has sent approximately one billion dollars back to school districts to help ease the transition when students go to charter schools, to help them readjust. What we’re seeing is that some districts are not making the adjustments that they need to make due to their enrollment. But let me also make another observation. When students go to a voc-tech school, the funding follows the student. When students participate in the METCO program, funding follows the students. And there are not district reimbursements for voc-tech schools and the METCO program. What’s really going on here is that the teachers unions are funding a campaign against charter schools ‘cause they don’t want the competition. So you don’t hear the teachers union complaining when kids go to a voc-tech school, and you don’t hear people complaining when kids get into the METCO program. So I think we need to be honest about the fact of what’s really going on here regarding student funding and what’s underneath some of these complaints.
Let’s do a little fact checking so we can understand what’s really going on here.
  1. Charter school reimbursements started out at 100% of the legislative mandate in FY99, but dropped to 89% in FY02, 0% in FY03, and 31% in FY04. In FY05 the reimbursements went back to 100%, but started dropping in FY13 (96%). Reimbursements were at 97% in FY14, but dropped to 69% in FY15 and 62% in FY16. The percentage for FY17 has not been calculated and released, but the legislative appropriations for district reimbursement is:
    FY14: $96,669,456
    FY15: $71,003,374
    FY16: $73,448,032
    FY17: $50,114,134
  2. Adjustments due to enrollment? What adjustments are you thinking about? Let’s use Natick as an example of what is happening out there in the real world. Natick has a district enrollment of 5,417 students in eight schools. They lose 39 students to charter schools, and $435,421 ($11,165 per student) is going to be garnished from their $9,117,845 Chapter 70 account for their charter school tuition.WIth eight schools and 13 grades, chances are those 39 students are spread out among 13 grade levels in 8 schools, so you can’t just eliminate two teachers to compensate for the lost funding. Even if you could eliminate two teachers, you would save no more than $120,000. So what adjustments are being made? Cut librarians. Impose user fees for buses. Cut seven teachers systemwide and increase class size. Cut your material and supply budget. In short, you need to reduce $435,421 worth of services to the remaining students to pay for the 39 students who go to charter schools.
  3. No reimbursements for voc-tech and charter schools? There’s nothing to reimburse. The state will garnish $135,206,868 from Boston’s $216,128,435 Chapter 70 allocation (actual tuition is $147,807,447, but Boston will get a $12,600,579 reimbursement).
    METCO? It’s funded by a state grant. Statewide, METCO provides $4,078.55 per pupil to receiving districts, plus $1828.95 per pupil for transportation. The METCO grant provides $13,381,718 in per pupil funding, plus $6,000,771 for transportation, to support 3281 students. No money is deducted from the Chapter 70 accounts of the METCO sending districts (Boston and Springfield). If METCO costs nothing, what is there to reimburse?
    Vocational Technical Schools? Cities and towns vote to join regional vocational districts, have representation on the school committee, are funded out of a separate Chapter 70 line item (no garnishments) and the local share is subject to local appropriation by a city council or town meeting. None of those facts apply to charter schools.

The regional vocational district is a particularly interesting remark. Regional vocational districts operate just like regional academic districts, and are subject to the legislative whims of Chapter 70 allocations. They are subject to local appropriations that are discretionary for amounts above the state-defined minimum local contribution. If we had local accountability for local funds, and could decide if we want to buy into a charter school, you wouldn’t have boatloads of school committees, selectmen, and city councils voting resolutions opposing Question 2.

There’s so much more in the debate that we can argue. Watch the video, and listen for this amazing statement:

I want to mention to follow up on things that Councillor Jackson said, because he said three separate things that are factually incorrect. The first one is that charter school tuition drains money from Boston Public Schools, and that the real challenge Boston is facing, in terms of its budget, is because of charter schools. That is incorrect. The Boston Public Schools are held harmless. Charter school tuition comes from a different section of the budget. 

Really? I would expect this from Liam Kerr, the DFER front man who debated Pat Jehlen. But from a former chair of the House Education Committee? She should have an intimate working knowledge about all aspects of Massachusetts school funding. Unbelievable.




51 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. The other difference...

    …is that technical schools and METCO-participating schools are still PUBLIC schools, accountable via their local school committees. Honestly, I don’t understand how charter schools get away with calling themselves public. It seems to me that they are private schools that get public money.

  2. I also wanted to add that it's a ballot question because ...

    Charter proponents wouldn’t work with the Senate to come up with a compromise. I was skeptical of Stan in the beginning on lifting the cap. But what the Senate proposed was:

    - Prohibit charter schools from charging attendance fees
    - No signed contracts from parents
    - Fill all vacated seats

    These are hidden screening processes that charters have to weed out students. Get kids who have parent involvement, add a money barrier and get rid of students who are not performing (instead of teaching them).

    Also, no lottery. Everyone is one the list and those NOT interested can opt out. So all these barriers that charters used would be removed.

    Then parents, teachers, everyone should be involved in the school board. right now it’s venture capitalists, hedge fund managers, etc. who are on these boards. Why?

    Greater transparency. Disclose all finances and board meeting minutes.

    Our charter friends called these items “poison pills” that ensured that a bill would not be passed.

    So we are here because charters what to take public money and stay hidden, no transparency and keep the ability the screen kids.

  3. Liberal Elite

    Someone mentioned the liberal elite a while ago, and it got me thinking. What are the liberal elite. I know the GOP, particularly the Trumpian segment, have different ideas, but Democratic charter proponents epitomize the liberal elite as far as I’m concerned.

    They are essentially neo-liberals, who believe in or work with business, to achieve policy goals that just so happen to enrich them and kill good-paying, middle-class jobs. That’s it in a nutshell. They use the excuse that they want to help the poor, but greedy middle-class professionals won’t let them. Some people will disagree with me, but I don’t want them in my party.

    As my man Bob Dylan sang,

    You may be a business man or some high-degree thief
    They may call you doctor or they may call you chief
    But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes you are
    You’re gonna have to serve somebody.

    Education allows the neo-liberals and corporatizers to pretend to serve the poor, while profitizing education, achieving their goals, and eliminating union jobs.

    • the subject of Frank's latest book

      This is the subject of Thomas Frank’s latest book, Listen Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People?.

      From the Amazon description:

      A form of corporate and cultural elitism has largely eclipsed the party’s old working-class commitment, he finds. For certain favored groups, this has meant prosperity. But for the nation as a whole, it is a one-way ticket into the abyss of inequality.

      • A lot of people in BMG

        …would feel really uncomfortable after reading this book.

        • wondering...

          … if a “BMG book club” would work. We’d pick a book to read (could debate that a bit, but the editors or someone they appoint would ultimately be responsible for the pick) and then start the conversation maybe a couple weeks afterward.

        • Plus a lot of people in Massachusetts

          I haven’t read the whole thing, but the excerpts available on Amazon from chapter “The Blue State Model” are not very complimentary to our state. For instance,

          “To think about it slightly more critically, Boston is the headquarters for two industries that are steadily bankrupting middle America: big learning and big medicine, both of them imposing costs that everyone else is basically required to pay and yet which increase at a pace far more rapid than wages or inflation. A thousand dollars a pill, thirty grand a semester: the debts that are gradually choking the life out of people where you live
          are what has made this city so very rich.” [ p. 183]

          (Details not quite accurate as the thousand-dollar pill comes out of California, but the general point stands.)

          I think the book club is a great idea!

        • "Uncomfortable" is one word for it

          OK, I’ll take this bait.

          Haven’t read it, but here’s an excerpt of a few thousand words

          You don’t have to love Hillary Clinton, and you sure don’t have to love the legacy of the Bill Clinton years, but sheesh. Note how little Frank actually *disagrees* with anything she says! No, instead he resorts to sneering characterizations and scare quotes.

          The great virtue-rush of the 1990s, for example, was focused on children, then thought to be the last word in overwhelming, noncontroversial goodness. Who could be against kids? No one, of course, and so the race was on to justify whatever your program happened to be in their name.

          I was waiting for him to mention S-CHIP. You know, actual health care for kids. Nope.

          … the favorite rationale of the day—think of the children!—was deployed to explain her husband’s crime bill as well as more directly child-related causes like charter schools.

          He also claims, bluntly, that “microfinance” doesn’t work, where the real story is a lot more complicated.

          The excerpt is a long-winded, messy, unreflective rant – mostly against the posturing and self-congratulation of rich philanthropists. Fine, but what else should they be doing with their money? A bonfire of the strawmen. I have friends and relatives and Facebook to provide me with that. “Buy the book”, no thanks.

          Please tell me how I’m a class traitor.

          • Just an addendum ...

            My dander gets up when people like Frank insist that the problem for the working class is liberals — you know, the people who want to increase the minimum wage, make it easier to join a union, want big money out of politics, have universal health care … etc.

            It’s a world in which Republicans just don’t even seem to exist.

            • But there are liberals....

              and there are liberals.

              What Frank points to (and what Hacker & Pierson point to in “Winner Take All Politics”) there are plenty of Democrats who are not really in this for the working class, some hardly at all and others are for the most part but make all sorts of “exceptions” when it suits them.

          • missing the forest by looking at just one tree

            This excerpt doesn’t get to the basic premise of the book, which is that the Dems have increasing relied on people with the “right” degrees and job experiences (Ivy League, Wall Street) to be the “smart people” to come up with their policies and solutions, while neglecting the input of those on the ground who are directly affected by said policies.

            This is certainly the case with the neo-libs and education policy.

    • are you talking about this guy?

      for example. Fits the description.

    • You are right in the result...

      …but I’m not sure you are about either the goals or the motives.

    • As Sinclair Lewis wrote....

      ‘It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it.’

      That sums up the neoliberals in this state who think that everything is rosy because they seem themselves as liberal and they are doing just fine, thank you. We have marriage equality, reproductive fights, just signed “equal pay” and we have outreach committees for minorities….so what’s not to love?

  4. I’m a lot more ambivalent about charters than some others on this comment thread. Charters are public schools, but governance is organized differently. In some cases, that works better – and in others, it works worst than for district public schools.

    What I’d like to see is a much more thoughtful comparison between district schools, charters, and between charters among themselves. For example:

    - Do charters perform better, worse or just as good as district or vocational schools?
    - Do they have richer curriculum? (Art, music, foreign languages)
    - Do they serve minority students with preponderance?
    - How do Special Education services compare?
    - How do capital costs compare between charters, district and vocational schools? Operating costs?
    - How do work conditions for staff compare? Salaries, job satisfaction, etc? Is there big staff turnover? Is staff adequately trained?

    And so on.

    • That's not what is on the ballot

      The issue here is simple. We have a ballot question that would lift the charter school cap, 12 new charter schools a year, and what happens if this ballot question is approved.

      Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, who is a charter school supporter, who was on the board of a charter school in Boston, is opposed to this ballot question. Without funding and governance reform, a wholesale expansion of charters will do significant damage to the finances of public school districts and municipalities. It will hurt kids in public schools that lose money to the charters under the existing funding and governance system.

      Let’s fix the funding and governance so we have a level playing field, then we can talk about all the interesting issues being raised here.

      • Funding: what do you mean by level playing field? Do we even know how capital and operating costs compare between charters, district, vocational schools?…

        I hope you see my point – the discussion cannot be dissociated from larger issues related to quality, performance, and operation of schools. It’s a delicate but well worth discussion to have.

      • The question is devilishly clever

        I know that you’re correct, but the campaigning isnt making that entirely clear. It seems more about: charters– good or bad? If that be the argument, pro-charter people can go straight to “parental choice” and win easily.

        I live in an urban under-funded school district. I know quite well that charters make the under-funding problem worse. But, at the same time, when you are a parent stuck with assignment to a problem school, the ability to escape is all, which leaves me highly ambivalent about them in the first place.

        Unfortunately, arguing against the measure at it is is hard beause the argument is complex, which is why it drifts back to “Charters: Aye or Nay?”

        That’s why I say that the drafting of the question is fiendishly clever.

        • I've canvassed on the question.

          People understand the money that charters take away from public schools. They also understand the lack of oversight.

          But you’re right. It’s hard to get away from charters bad, public schools good.

          • The charter industry’s entire song is charters good, public bad. The message is vote yes so kids in failing public schools can go to great charter schools.

            Maybe charters are good. However, the funding structure damages the schools that educate 96% of our children. So far, 112 school committees have opposed Question 2 (none in favor). The reason why is simple. The funding and governance structure is poor public policy and hurts children in public schools. If the state underfunds public schools, and the town is up against the Proposition 2.5 limits, schools must make cuts or raise user fees. Charters, on the other hand, gain their funding as an entitlement as a garnishment from the town’s Chapter 70 funds. A bad year gets even worse when the charters get preferred funding as an entitlement, regardless of the impact on the sending schools.

            Level the playing field, then we can talk about which is a better model. Let the charters have a generous entitlement at the expense of the sending districts, that’s bad for 96% of our children and it calls into question any ability to compare charters and public schools.

          • Charters are bad, but also good

            I do not support charter schools, and I wish the cat hadn’t been let out of the bag. Charter schools are, however, both bad and good. It all depends on where you are standing.

            Charter schools take students out of public schools, and with them, the amount of per-pupil funding for those students. That is bad for the public schools, which are left with a lower proportion of students who are devoted to education, and also left with a lower amount of money to cover their fixed costs.

            However if you’re a parent, that can be a good thing – you can get your child out of a school with a low percentage of students devoted to education and into one with a high percentage of students devoted to education. It’s like moving to the suburbs without having to move or pay the price.

            Plus, charters get more money to fulfill the particular needs of their student body than they were receiving in public schools. The higher money that urban schools get reflects the fact that they have a higher proportion of difficult-to-educate students. Taking the average funding and coupling it with above-average students is a huge win for those above-average students – directly at the expense of the below average students, of course – but still a huge win for some.

            Charters are a way to compete with the Balkanization of schools in Massachusetts – a discriminatory country-club mechanism that is funded by housing prices and justified by those same housing prices. They are a way for people to sort themselves, to escape the people that they don’t want to associate with. If anyone thinks that is an indictable offense, then you should be pushing for the elimination of town-based school districts because it’s the same thing on steroids.

            From a city’s perspective, charters help retain existing residents, but as public (aka “guaranteed admission”) schools decrease in quality, they harm the attraction of future residents. No one moves to a city to get a lottery ticket to a charter school, and as public schools get worse and worse, fewer and fewer people who care about education in even the smallest way move to that city.

            I can see both sides of this issue. I really think that the entire education system should be shaken up in a way that does not couple education with residence, because we have massive segregation in our state – no longer by neighborhood, but by town borders.

            • Uprated for the good analysis...

              …but I for one would oppose delinking matriculation from residence. There are a whole host of reasons not related to demographics to maintain the convenience of schools close by. IMO we should focus on equalizing what the schools have to offer.

              • What are the reasons?

                The only reason you hint at is “close by” – but charter schools are usually not “close by” to all of their population, and no one ever raises that as a problem.

                Town lines in Massachusetts currently serve as very hard barriers that keep certain groups of population out. This is evident time and time again, especially when someone proposes developing housing that is deemed “affordable” and not for seniors. That usually causes the energy in a town to come out to oppose it, and more and more I am hearing people offering “that will make our schools worse” as a reason to block it.

                • I'm not defending charters on this point.

                  If I were a parent with kids in public schools I’d much rather have to go half way across town rather than half way across the county for parent conferences, evening band concerts, home games, etc. Full disclosure I actually went to private high school across a state line, but the advantages in my parents’ opinion outweighed the geographic convenience of my local public high school which at the time was lucky to keep accreditation from year to year (and no, we weren’t trying to get away from any demographic, thank you very much). Yes, additional housing is going to have an impact on the local school system. I substitute in the same public system I attended (until high school as mentioned above) and while we have additional space for now and have built another school in the intervening years (as well as finally closing a century-old building that should not have been a school anymore) when space and staffing was at a premium and I saw new housing was going in my first thought was which elementary district is this in. For me and I think many others in my town, it was a simple question of numbers, not kinds of people. I’d rather make every community and school district excellent rather than artificially shuffle people around so we can all feel the pain because of some artificial sense of fairness.

      • it's important to put the 12 new schools a year in context

        it adds up to about 1% of public schools in the state.

        With no end.

        10% in 10 years. 20% in 20 years. And all the corporate backing that comes with it.

        Charters have always been about corporate forces trying to privatize education. This bill will help their movement succeed quite quickly.

    • Charters are quasi-public

      schools, not public schools.

      A type of corporation in the private sector that is backed by a branch of government that has a public mandate to provide a given service. Most quasi-public corporations began as government agencies, but have since become separate entities.

      In general, a “quasi-public” agency is a publicly chartered body that provides a public service and is overseen by an appointed board, commission, or committee. Typically, these organizations do not rely on the State’s General Fund to operate.

      • However

        The National Labor Relations Board has ruled that charter schools are private corporations.

        • Even better.

          It’s complicated though.

          “Quasi-public” can be a little hard to define at times. I think it works as a description for a general readership.

          For labor, they are “private employers” because charters were claiming they weren’t public or private, if I’m not mistaken.

          The contention that charter schools are “public” is backed by the enabling statute, which says charters “must be public,” but I think that language was included to differentiate them from actual private schools.

      • My closest comparison

        GE got millions of tax dollars to locate to Boston. We have no say what they do with that tax money. As a member of the public, I can walk into the lobby of their headquarters. That doesn’t mean that I can force them to serve me.

        Charter schools get tax dollars, with no public say on how they spend the money. They do accept public children, but will move out anyone who won’t conform to their format.

        sabutai   @   Thu 15 Sep 9:11 PM
  5. checking Sarah Cohodes work

    it seems that she has never had a bad thing to say about charters, ever.

    But she sweeps away lotteries and mid-year removal of children, never highlighting that these are barriers or a screening process. That is unfortunate.

    Charters will lose the ballot question, and they should. The question sucks. I have no doubt in my mind that we will have additional charter schools, but the lottery system needs to go away, we need transparency and they MUST remove their barriers. We have a better chance of this happening if they lose. They thumbed their nose at the Senate earlier this year and said they will go all in ion the ballot question.

    When they lose, and they should, the will have no other recourse and need to engage with lawmakers and create a system that helps all children, not the ones that they hand pick.

    • Here's the problem with Cohodes...

      Her research uses quantitative causal inference methods to evaluate programs and policies that have the potential to ameliorate achievement gaps.

      I’m a fan of data, but for a large segment of educational policy-makers, data is substitution for actual experience and knowledge. Quantitative data is, by nature, reductive. It requires a certain amount of humility when applied to education. In the charter school movement, humility is lacking.

  6. Taking issue with that Brookings Report--

    Cited by an editor in the italics.
    The Brookings report by Cohodes and Dynarski also states,

    “This research shows that charter schools in the urban areas of Massachusetts have large, positive effects on educational outcomes. The effects are particularly large for disadvantaged students, English learners, special education students, and children who enter charters with low test scores.”

    Boston charters have an 8% ELL (English Language Learner) population while BPS have a 30% ELL population. Likewise, the Boston charters have fewer (as a percentage) students with a disability.
    This statement by the Brookings report is ignoring a selection process that has occurred.
    David, when I saw that statement about charters better serving ELLs & special needs kids, that raised a red flag because a co-worker of mine (a special educator) used to work at a charter school, and it was his job to look at kids’ 504 plans and IEPs, and then convince the parents that the charter school was not a good fit for their child. Because kids with 504s and IEPs can be more challenging to teach, charters weed them out.
    The public schools are a public good for every child in a city or town, and they must be inclusive. For our Commonwealth to start replacing public schools with charter schools that exclude kids with these needs (ELL, autism spectrum disorder, behavioral disabilities) means Massachusetts is turning its back on inclusion–and that’s definitely something that should give Democrats pause.

    • I just received a

      former charter school student with an IEP, who left the school due to a lack of services. Fortunately, her family could afford to move to the suburbs. And this was one of the better charter schools–relatively low student attrition and teacher turnover.

    • The study also is ignorant of the law

      “Caplift” provisions of the law allow for opening more charters in the areas the Brookings says needs them. The ballot question isn’t necessary for that.

      sabutai   @   Sun 18 Sep 12:32 PM
      • Brookings sort of sucks.

        They might be good on some things, but they have a history of liking market-oriented policy.

        • I'm not entirely sure...

          …how accurate or well-deserved this reputation is, but I’ve always thought of Brookings as the liberal member of the big three think tanks (the others being Heritage as conservative and Cato as libertarian). I think during the Nixon years it was seen, at least by the WH, as a Dem government in exile, to the point that the President contemplated firebombing them.

          • They moved to the center along

            with the Dems in the 1990s. The Urban Institute made similar moves, though I don’t know how much either has moved back.

            If it’s education policy, it’s almost always going to be neo-liberal.

            • they moved where

              their corporate funders wanted them.

              The reason why Think Tanks exist is because corporations became too frustrated that colleges were producing study results they didn’t like.

              So, they thought, “why don’t we just create fake research institutions that produce the results they want?”

              And the rest is history.

              The saddest thing is how easily accepted they were, and how they were basically used to turn research institutions in colleges across the country into neoliberal mirrors of the Think Tanks themselves.

        • A few degrees of separation

          FWIW, I know people who know Dynarski and think very highly of her as a skeptical, data-driven person.

          Brookings itself, of course, has some serious integrity problems on other fronts.

          I’m leaning against #2 — in large part because of the influence of outside big-money groups, as evidenced in Cheung vs Jehlen. And I appreciate the thoughtful arguments here. But I’d suggest not attacking the authors because we don’t like their conclusions.

          • Dynarski may be a good

            researcher. There’s a liberal economist at Amherst College who has partnered with conservative economist Erik Hanushek on educational research.

            Economists can work well with numbers and can illuminate issues in education but as a connoisseur of educational research, I’ve learned to be skeptical of quantitative research from people unfamiliar with education, i.e. economists.

            I’m as concerned with their methods as I am with their conclusions.

  7. The current "cap" is about funding, not seats

    The charter school cap is not a cap on the number of charter school seats. It’s a limit on the amount of money that can be drained from the public school district. If the state were to fund half of the cost of charter schools out of its budget, the impact on the district would be cut in half and the number of seats would double.

    Mayor Marty Walsh is against Question 2 because of the damage it could do to the Boston Public Schools and to the city’s finances. Right now, the city can lose 18% of its school spending to charters; it can’t afford any more.

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