Letter to Newton Minyan on Question 2

Question #2 goes well beyond the narrower issue of whether charter schools can provide a useful part of the public education landscape.  You can support charters and still recognize this ballot question as reckless (See for example the opposition to Question #2 from Boston Mayor Martin Walsh who said Question 2 would ”have a disastrous impact on students, their schools, and the cities and towns that fund them”).

You cannot develop complex educational policy with simplistic ballot questions.   Without reform of the funding mechanism, the Commonwealth cannot realistically add up to twelve new charters each year .   Many of the charter schools, over many years, have not been taking their share of English language learners and the more difficult special education students in their schools.  Regular district schools have had to provide continuing special education services and ESL with less funding.    Charter schools have varied in quality, and the ability of the state education department to adequately study 3-4 new applicant schools each year and to seriously oversee the existing 74 schools has already been seen. The addition of up to 12 new schools a year will allow all kinds of questionable enterprises to come into the state to apply, without sufficient state resources to vet them.

Sherry has asked what the motivation is of those out of state donors who are putting millions of dollars into this campaign.  All eyes of the country are on Massachusetts because this ballot issue has little to do with “poor children who are on charter school wait lists.”   This is a campaign to break teachers’ unions and to substitute private educational enterprises for public schools. (See Forbes:  “Charter School GravyTrain Runs Express to Fat City”)

If these donors were all as charitable as Rachel suggests, why the need for “dark money” contributions, why not transparent donations so that people can see the sources? (See Jonathan Kozol’s piece in Boston Globe)

“PARTISANS FOR Question 2 have not been eager to let the public know where their money’s coming from. …..The Walmart heirs have every right to pour their money into causes they support. But voters also have the right to get some sense of what those causes are. The Waltons have for decades been standard-bearers in attempts to undermine support for public education — which they and their allies have derided as “the public school monopoly” — by breaking up the public system and replacing it with vouchers, a longtime goal of right-wing intellectuals. In recent years they’ve added charter schools to their agenda. Question 2 supporters would like the public to believe that ideology is not at stake in this debate. Thoughtful citizens may find this unconvincing. “

It’s one thing to give money to the charity of your choice.  It’s another to flood an election campaign, regardless of your motives.  Do supporters believe it’s okay for the beliefs of a billionaire to outweigh the beliefs of thousands of other people.  Are those same supporters okay with unlimited money in politics? Because then we really have a very limited form of democracy.

It is interesting to see the compassion that drives some voters to say they don’t want to tell any parent they can’t send their children where ever they want.  Yet, that same compassion has not been applied to the parents who do not win their lottery choices for the schools with the best reputations among the urban district schools, or the insufficient seats in the exam schools.

That compassion also needs to go to the Boston toddler, now in some kind of makeshift family daycare so her parents can work, who were counting on the Boston Public School pre-school program that was cut back last year because the city lost so much money to charters.    Or the parents of one of the 14,000 kids on waitlists for subsidized pre-school around the state.

Even if you accept the pro-ballot people’s assertion that Question #2 brings other state aid to schools, where does that increased state aid come from?  It comes from pre-school and other important state programs.  Our underfunded educational resources are not solved by increasing the funds available for those who now make up 4% of our state funded students, at the expense of the other 96%.

We ask a great deal of our urban schools.  We not only want them to provide curriculum and social development; we expect them to deal with the full range of issues stemming from poverty.  We should listen to our urban leaders who tell us that charters are not an alternative to providing quality education for all our students.   (See the letter from several dozen Boston public schoolparents to the Newton School Committee)

  • Question 2 calls for 12 new schools a year, every year. Even if the district doesn’t want them. This unmitigated growth will be incredibly destabilizing to our district and will result in the defunding and closing of our schools that serve our most vulnerable populations. 
  • Boston currently has several thousand charter seats available.  A “No on 2” vote does not prevent these additional seats from being filled. 
  • Question 2 does nothing to address the opportunity gap between urban and suburban schools. In fact, the opposite is true. If Question 2 passes, the opportunity gap between the suburban and urban schools will grow into a chasm.

Are we in the suburbs so smart that we know better than the urban parent activists who work hard to get quality education for all their students.

Sheila Decter