A “Third Way” or the charter way?

Chicago charter posterThe Parent Imperfect has a strong sense that the fix is in on lifting the cap on charter school growth in Massachusetts. I fear that the fix will leave public school districts with less resources to educate the vast majority of students in the state that will always attend traditional public schools. As always, the kids will pay the price of a bad “compromise.” The Dorchester Reporter reported yesterday that Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz and Rep. Russell Holmes have reached a compromise to lift the current legal limit on charter expansion (the charter cap).

It’s important to note that this is a compromise between two legislators intent on raising the cap, and charter boosters in the community, like the Mass Public Charter Schools Association and Paul Grogan of The Boston Foundation. I have nothing against either legislator: It just seems important to be honest about what has happened. Parents, teachers and concerned members of the community who don’t want to see the cap lifted were conspicuously absent from the debate and the compromise.

Charter school growthAs we write here, 2130 people have signed an electronic petition circulated by the Boston parent group, Quality Educaton for Every Student to the Senator and her house Co-Chair of the Joint Education Committee, Rep. Alice Peisch of Wellesley. The petition does not stake out an “anti-charter” position, but simply says that it makes no sense to divert more money from public school districts at a time when many of the most challenged districts face serious budgetary problems. This year, 42% of state funding to education in Boston went to charter schools educating about 13% of Boston’s students. What will that percentage be when charters have 20% of students in the City? How many teachers will get laid off that year? The compromise apparently gives this concern a nod, but then goes forward to lift the charter cap, anyway.

For now, all we know about the deal is what the dealers say about it. Rumor has it that a vote will come on Tuesday, so we’ll know more then. Sen. Chang Diaz’s office released a statement trumpeting the fact that the deal includes a commitment to pull the plug on charter growth if the Legislature doesn’t fulfill its legal responsibility to reimburse districts for funds diverted from those districts to pay charter school tuition. That’s very nice, but it hardly seems like a stunning victory for schoolchildren that we are obliging the State House to follow its own laws.

At the base of this so-called “third way” is the perception that we need, at all costs, a “safety valve” for families who believe that the Boston Public Schools are not educating their children well. According to this argument, more charters will offer more such families such a choice. I know families in this situation. You probably do, too. They truly believe that a charter school has saved their child (or children), and some of those families definitely want more charters to open. I also know that charters have proven to be a very unreliable safety valve for many of those same families. Proportionally, charters educate way fewer English Language learners and students with special needs than the public schools, who must take everyone. Fully half of the students who turn to these schools as an alternative can’t adjust to the charter environment and end up back in traditional public schools (or out of school, entirely). At a meeting with BPS parents last week, Sen. Chang-Díaz acknowledged these concerns and promised language in her compromise that would demand charter accountability around just these issues. Her statement mentions no such language in the final bill. I hope the language just slipped the minds of those spinning the compromise.

If charter schools are a safety valve, then they make for an expensive and leaky valve at a time when urban districts like the BPS are under tremendous budget pressure. Rather than divert resources to a separate system of schools with precious little accountability, let’s focus our efforts on changing the way business is done at Court Street and on continuing to improve Boston’s schools, one at a time. I just don’t see an alternative if we want to offer Boston’s students great educational choices. Step one along this path will be the selection of a new Boston School Superintendent who understands the problems faced by the BPS, and possesses a vision that can mobilize all stakeholders to tackle those problems.

The Globe reports that charter boosters are unhappy with the Holmes/Chang-Díaz compromise, because it places even weak conditions on the charter expansion fiesta to come. The pro-charter lobby smells blood and thinks it is in a position to get everything it wants. They may well be overplaying their hand.

Make you want to holler? Take a moment to read and sign the Quest petition. Then HOLLER!

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10 Comments

Filed under Charter Schools

10 responses to “A “Third Way” or the charter way?

  1. Mary Battenfeld

    We are hollering! Thanks for putting so perfectly, parent imperfect.

  2. Thanks, Mary. I only wish the Globe would publish your op-ed on the subject. I do hope people get a chance to see that one…SOON!

  3. Chris

    This is an excellent post. Thank you! (One minor correction, the newspaper is the “Dorchester Reporter” not the “Dorchester News.”)

  4. Thanks, Chris. No such thing as a minor correction. I guess I’m stuck back in the days of the Dorchester Community News, which was a completely different thing. The website of the current newspaper is dotnews.com , but, as you say, the paper is the Dorchester Reporter. That’s a goofy mistake that I will fix.

  5. Reblogged this on Panorama of the Mountains and commented:
    More thoughts on the current BPS Budget Crisis and the effect that the proposed charter cap compromise may cause.

    • Thanks, Liam, for reading this and thinking enough of it to post it to your blog. Our perspectives on this seem pretty close to each other. Please keep saying what needs to be said. And, by the way, I’m another of the maniacs who has been out there sliding around on a bike all winter. We’ve probably passed each other out there at some point. I’ve never been more ready for the spring.

  6. Sarae

    Love your blog, Parent Imperfect! The link didn’t work for the statement: This year, 42% of state funding to education in Boston went to charter schools educating about 13% of Boston’s students. Do you have the source? Would love to use it in a conversation I’m having with a friend about charter school funding.

    • That’s very nice, Sarae. I’m glad you find reading this worthwhile. Writing it is very helpful to me. That’s a drag about the link. I’m sorry. It works on my computer and seems to work for others, so I don’t know what’s up. Those numbers are public record on the BPS site, but the easiest source is a January 21 article by James Vaznis in the Globe that says…”That means that even though state aid has increased slightly for Boston, less of the money is actually going to the traditional school system. For instance this year, Boston’s public schools are losing a total of $87.5 million in aid to about two dozen charter schools. That leaves the public school system with $121.9 million in state funding, about $58 million less than what it received in 2008.” I did the map to come to the conclusion that the $87.5 million to charters is 42% of the total state aid. This already takes into account what the BPS gets back in the so-called “reimbursements.”

  7. Pingback: WEEKEND WARRIORS: ANATOMY OF THE NEW MASSACHUSETTS CHARTER SCHOOL BATTLEGROUND | DigBoston

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