by Félix Pérez
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A ballot referendum that would lift the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts would destabilize public schools because it would drain millions more in taxpayer money from Massachusetts public schools and fails to address the issues challenging the state’s public schools: lack of funding, high-stakes testing, and a rigid accountability regime.
That was the message delivered recently by a coalition of community groups, parents and unions that has come together to oppose the charter school question that will be on the November 2016 ballot. The ballot would allow 12 new charters schools a year anywhere in the state, regardless of the impact on a local school district’s budget. The coalition has organized a campaign called Save Our Public Schools to fight the ballot question.
“If this passes, then over time public schools in any given district — currently governed democratically by a local school committee — could be wiped out and turned over to private charter school operators,” said Barbara Madeloni, a senior lecturer at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
In an opinion piece in the Boston Globe, Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, wrote:
Commonwealth charter schools — funded with public dollars — are not the answer. They are not the answer because they siphon much-needed funds — $419 million this year alone — from our already underfunded public schools.
They are not the answer because they can be imposed by the state against the will of the community — the parents and other taxpayers who have to pay for these schools and then live with the negative impact they have on the district schools that most of their children attend.
They are not the answer because they too often use suspensions and other methods that push out English-language learners and special needs students, effectively creating what the NAACP calls “separate and unequal conditions for success.”
In addition, charter critics point out, most charter schools, rather than innovate, focus on test prep and drill. They have high turnover rates as a result of poor working conditions, long hours and lack of educator autonomy, all of which undermine school stability and student learning. conditions.
Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools, a community organization, said her organization “questions the idea that you can have a two-tier system that isn’t inherently separate and unequal.” Citizens for Public Schools developed an easy-to-read fact sheet that compares charter and non-charter schools.
Various research studies and reports on Massachusetts charter schools have revealed a number of troubling findings. Most recently, for example, the Annenberg Institute for School Reform, in a report titled “Whose Schools?: An Examination of Charter School Governance in Massachusetts,” found that approximately one-third of charter school trustees in Massachusetts are affiliated with the financial services and corporate sectors, and less than one-quarter have educational expertise. Another finding: parents of students in charter schools comprise only 14 percent of charter trustees statewide.
Instead of lifting the cap on charter schools, the Massachusetts Teachers Association and its partners in the Massachusetts Education Justice Alliance are calling for a three-year moratorium on any new charter schools and on the high-stakes use of testing.