BOSTON — Parents, educators, students and community leaders from the Pittsfield area have joined statewide allies launching the Campaign to Save Our Public Schools — a committee opposed to a ballot question that seeks to expand charter schools in the state.
"Charter schools are already draining over $400 million in taxpayer money from our district public schools every year, and this ballot question would allow them to take even more, harming the district public schools that the vast majority of Massachusetts children attend," said Juan Cofield, president of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP and chairman of the Campaign to Save Our Public Schools.
"Expansion of charter schools is already resulting in two publicly funded school systems, separate and unequal," he said. "Allowing additional charter school growth every year, without any end, will result in significant and irreparable harm to our public schools and the students who rely on them."
In a media release issued Wednesday, the group said Pittsfield would lose $2,043,031 in state Chapter 70 aid diverted to charter schools in the current fiscal year, and a total of $408,672,674 is being diverted to charter schools statewide — funding diverted from 243 local school district budgets.
"Pittsfield currently sees over two million dollars diverted to charter schools and, at the same time, has faced losses of positions and valuable programs due to tight budgets," said Brendan Sheran, president of the United Educators of Pittsfield, representing city educators. "Our community continues to face the challenge of educating students with a greater amount of needs with stagnant resources."
Members of the Pittsfield School Committee, Superintendent Jason "Jake" McCandless and other local officials also have spoken out against the charter school ballot question.
Other local school districts losing funding this year include North Adams ($672,927) and Central Berkshire Regional School District ($164,281), the release states.
The referendum question on the Nov. 8 state ballot would, if approved, result in as much as $100 million more state aid money every year being diverted from public schools, the group asserts.
"Local communities and their school committees have no say in the approval or operation of charter schools, and the state often approves charter schools over the strong opposition of the communities that have to host and pay for them," said Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools. "We are building a grassroots movement to oppose the expansion of unaccountable charters, and to educate our neighbors about the real costs of this ballot question."
Charter schools also push out students they don't want to serve through a variety of methods, including high suspension rates, often for minor offenses, according to the release, which adds, "While only 4 percent of Massachusetts' publicly funded schools are charters, they comprised nearly 14 percent of schools with discipline rates over 20 percent in 2014."
If passed, the ballot question "could expand statewide charter school enrollment by up to 1 percent of the total statewide public school enrollment each year," according to the release, which would mean 9,263 students, based on 1 percent of 926,181 in total K-12 enrollment in the state in 2014-15.
The FY 15 statewide reimbursement rate paid by school districts to charter schools was $10,909 per pupil, the release states.
A summary of the ballot question is available at www.mass.gov/ago/docs/government/2015-petitions/15-31-summary.pdf.