The Charter School Press is On

Gov. Baker testifies on behalf of his charter school expansion bill before the Committee on Education. [Photo: Antonio Caban/SHNS] 10/13/15

[Photo: Antonio Caban/SHNS] 10/13/15

The Parent Imperfect had every intention of testifying at yesterday’s State House hearing on several charter school bills before the Legislature, but life intervened and the testimony went unspoken. Since I spent the time writing this up, I have to do something with it, so it is attached below. I’ll send it to the Education Committee, as well.

I did finally get to the State House at about 4PM, yesterday. At that time, a number of public education advocates were still waiting to speak about the various bills. They had been in the Gardiner Auditorium since before 10AM, and had to sit through not only the shower of bilge from Governor and the Secretary of Education, but then had to endure hours of pro-charter testimony before they even got a chance to speak. One witness, Karran Harper Royal, had come all the way from New Orleans to warn the Legislature about what happened in her city. The rest were BPS parents and students who persevered all day to explain why they want the Legislature to Keep the Cap on charter school growth in Massachusetts. Waiting for hours to speak to several members of the Committee in an almost-empty auditorium, they were yesterday’s heroes.

anti charterThose heroes face a tougher path to victory this time. Having suffered a humiliating defeat last year, Team Charter is back with a vengeance. Now they have a Governor and a Secretary of Education that are firmly on their side. Boston’s Mayor Walsh says the Governor has gone overboard with his request to allow up to 12 new charters per year in a quarter of the State’s school districts. But Walsh’s own proposal  is more than Team Charter could have hoped for a year ago. I expect that even Team Charter is nervous about the growth projections in the Governor’s proposal, so they’re probably quite happy with Marty’s cave-in. And if the heavy hitters aren’t enough, Team Charter is collecting signatures for a possible pro-charter ballot initiative and three big-time downtown lawyers have filed a very shaky lawsuit (more a political negotiation than a serious lawsuit) claiming that the Commonwealth is violating Students’ rights by limiting their ability to attend charter schools.

It looks like a full court press, leading to a slam dunk in the Legislature, but supporters of public ed will play it out, anyway. Full court presses have been known to back-fire.

About those bills…

 I want to thank the Co-Chairs of the Education Committee, all Committee members and everyone present here today for the opportunity to testify before you.

My name is [Earl the Pearl]. I live in Roslindale, with my wife and two children, one of whom just graduated from a BPS school and is attending college in New York State. The other is still a ninth grader in the BPS.  I am also a member of the parent group, QUEST, and am employed at the human rights center at Northeastern University School of Law, where we have a program to study the implementation (or not) of the right to education of all children. My remarks here are my own.

I’m here to testify in favor of S.326. I believe that a continued pause in the creation of charter schools is the only prudent path until we fully understand the impact of further charter school expansion. I’d like to thank Sen. Pacheco and his co-sponsors for putting forward that legislation in a less than friendly climate toward such thinking.

Just over a year ago, a debate took place in the MA Senate concerning a possible lifting of the existing cap on charter school expansion in the Commonwealth. An important question surfaced in that debate, and I believe that the failure of proponents of lifting the cap to answer that question contributed to the defeat of the legislation. The question was, simply, “What is the end game?” That is, where is the continued expansion of these costly, publicly–funded, privately-governed alternatives to public schools taking us?

full court pressFriends, today the scales have fallen from our eyes and we have seen the endgame. What has been proposed by the Governor and Secretary Peyser is nothing less than the New Orleans Plan for Boston…without Hurricane Katrina. Team Charter has deployed a full court press and Governor Baker is on the point, with Sec’y Peyser on the wing.  You know the rest of the lineup. The endpoint is no mystery: The Governor and his allies wish to remove any meaningful restriction on charter school expansion and provide all kinds of incentives to accelerate that expansion, just as was done by Louisiana legislators in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. We apparently want to do it here, without the storm as cover.

They say that they want the market to decide how many charter schools exist, but if they really believe they are talking about a market, I suggest that they sit in on an Econ class at one of our public high schools in Boston. I am not someone who believes the market should decide how we educate our children, but even high school economics demonstrates that charters are not operating in anything like a free market. The Commonwealth is paying the tuition for every charter student. Take away that enormous subsidy and charter schools will disappear quicker than the crowds on Yawkey Way when baseball season is over.

Far from a market, this is the plunder of a public resource for private use and, in some cases, private profit. Members of the Education Committee, if anything like the Governor’s proposals go forward, Boston, alone, will lose hundreds of millions of dollars in public education funds over the first few years. Our cherished Chapter 70 appropriation will quickly become exclusively a charter tuition fund. And don’t forget, committee members, that another law commits the Legislature to reimburse public school districts for a portion of those losses. The pressure on you to live up to this promise will increase as the Commonwealth implements open season on charter expansion. This reimbursement won’t be enough to compensate the losses to public schools, but it will become an increasingly large hot potato for all of you to deal with at budget time.

Yes, I know parents just like me who swear by charter schools. Some of those people are in the audience today. They had negative experiences in the BPS and believe that the schools “saved” their child, so they want more people to have that opportunity. I am happy that you have found what you see as a positive option for your child, and no one is talking about taking that option away from you. But I truly believe that expansion of that option at the expense of our public schools is not good for the much larger group of people, myself included, who rely on the BPS to educate our children. Your experience makes me want to work harder to fix the obvious problems with the BPS, but it does not make me a supporter of charter expansion in the Commonwealth.

I ask all members of the Committee to support S. 326, a bill to support the right of every child in the Commonwealth to equal access to quality education. Even if the philosophical arguments don’t persuade you, fiscal prudence should make you wonder about any further expansion of charter schools in the Commonwealth at this time.

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8 Comments

Filed under Charter Schools

8 responses to “The Charter School Press is On

  1. DJS

    I’m sure union school teachers greatly object to the competition from charter schools. Yet Boston Collegiate Charter School had 2,000 applicants for 17 teacher positions last year. In other words, union school teachers are virtually the only ones opposing charter school expansion.

    A little detail left out in this polemic: the 12 charter schools were to be authorized “only in districts performing in the bottom 25 percent on standardized tests. Such districts include Boston, Fall River, New Bedford, Randolph and Salem, as well as the state’s two districts placed into receivership: Holyoke and Lawrence.”

    So how much longer do we give the current system? One year? Two? Five? A decade?

    • Thanks, DJS, for your comment, though I don’t know how you get from lots of job applicants in a very bad job market to “union school teachers are virtually the only ones opposing charter school expansion.” Really? I guess you weren’t at the hearing last week, or didn’t stay around until the BPS parents actually were given a chance to speak. And how about the MA Senate? Did they not vote against expansion about 16 months ago? Few union teachers there…

      You are correct, the Governor’s proposed charter giveaway law only opens up expansion in 25% of districts. By coincidence, these are the only districts that would allow charters in. Try starting a KIPP school in Rep. Peisch’s Wellesley district. It would never happen due to lack of market, but it is not something that would happen, even if the public was clamoring for it.

      Thanks for clarifying that it’s not about improving public schools for Team Charter. It’s about privatizing the system.

      Peace.

    • Nancy Grossman

      DJS–I have worked as a town treasurer and served on my town’s finance committee, and I know lots and lots of people besides public-school teachers who “do the math” and feel that charters are sucking the lifeblood out of neighborhood schools: my fellow public officials, principals, superintendents, as well as parents and taxpayers. I am not sure who came up with the idea that it is only unionized teachers who oppose lifting the cap. My son’s regional secondary-school district (two schools–middle and high) loses over a million dollars a year to several charter schools, and every year there is a rotating list of budget slashes for the local schools: staff (17 last year!), language programs, P.E., computer instruction, etc. along with increased class sizes. Now there is talk of closing the middle school and moving those kids to the high school, not because of low enrollment, only as a cost-cutting measure. Our school district was once one of the best in the state, and it is becoming a shadow of its former self.

      And…..I happen to be a parent who thinks that unions are good for both teachers and students, despite the reigning narrative to the contrary. I want my kid’s teachers well-paid, with job security. I don’t see how underpaid and insecure makes them more committed to doing what is a pretty tough job.

      • Thanks for your perspective, Nancy. Your own story makes this more real, and you are absolutely right that “only the Teachers’ Unions support us” is a myth spread by Team Charter because it serves their purposes. I can easily become too focused and fail to talk about this as a problem across the Commonwealth and beyond. We have a lot of work to do over the next few months and years to be sure that we don’t all end up with a “Baker’s Dozen” of new charters in each of our cities.

  2. Jane

    I find your testimony compelling, but also torn — How can those of us with kids in exam schools begrudge families who want an alternative to what is offered by bps in the upper grades (outside of the exam schools)? How are the exam schools more holy than the charters– they seem to be similar pull on resources — is this not the case? I ask this sincerely. thanks, J

    • Thanks, Jane. I know you are asking the question seriously, and I take it that way. The exam schools are not holy, and do gobble up resources. If charters were capped and someone was advocating more exam schools or an expansion of AWC, I’d like to think I’d also be challenging that. For better or worse, that’s not what’s going on.

      Let me say very quickly that I agree that charters work for some kids. They also don’t work for a lot of other kids, and I have come to know something about what happens to those kids. It makes me wonder just how much we can talk about them as an “alternative,”

      More importantly, I am completely convinced that their continued growth degrades that already-strained ability of the public schools to do their job. I think that anyone who feels that public schools are important to what we have left of democracy in this country has to speak out about that, regardless of whether or not s/he has children, or where his/her children go to school.

      Speaking out puts me in uncomfortable positions, and has probably cost me a few friends, but keeping quiet would be even more uncomfortable for me. That’s too simple an answer to a really complicated question. I’d be happy to talk about it, if you like. Just let me know in a comment that you’d like to talk.

      • Jane

        Thanks for your response. I really appreciate your advocacy – and I too am generally skeptical of charter expansion. But I don’t think it’s fair to vilify the charters for not accommodating all kids, when the exam schools by their very design do not serve all kids.

  3. Fair enough, Jane. That’s a completely legitimate view, held by many around me. As I said above, no one is proposing to expand the exam schools, while charters could very soon be a much more prominent part of the local school landscape. That said, those painting ourselves as advocates of public education need to have more to say about the exam schools that educate some of our children.

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