Baker: "We live with the status quo" if charter question fails

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BOSTON >> Gov. Charlie Baker acknowledged Thursday that if voters reject Question 2 in November it will probably take the "wind out of the sails of charter school development."

A major supporter of expanding access to charter schools who has campaigned for Question 2, Baker agreed to co-host Margery Egan's nautically themed construction during Thursday's appearance on WGBH.

"Yeah, probably," Baker said to Egan's question.

Question 2 would allow for up to 12 additional charter schools beyond existing caps, and if a majority of Massachusetts voters back it on Nov. 8 it will become law. The governor, a self-described "direct democracy guy," said he would abide by that.

"If the people in Massachusetts vote against this, they're making a statement about charter schools and about expansion and that means we live with the status quo," Baker said.

Issue advocates often pursue ballot proposals after one or both branches of the Legislature have demonstrated a reluctance to address problems through the normal lawmaking process, and once voters have weighed in on an issue they often have the final say.

A recent MassINC/WBUR poll showed the charter question failing 41-48, while a spokeswoman for the pro-charter campaign claimed "internal polling shows us with a healthy lead." The pro-charter groups have already far outspent the opponents, according to campaign finance data.

Baker, who says his advocacy for charter schools stems from his desire to widen access to quality educational opportunities, wondered about a vote that splits cities and suburbs for and against the issue.

"It's a curveball and I'm speculating at this point: What do we do if across the Commonwealth in every urban community this thing passes by a big number," Baker said, pausing for a moment before continuing, "fails in the suburbs." He said, "I'm going to feel sick about this if that's where we end up."

Charter school advocates, citing constitutional education rights, are also pursuing a lawsuit to lift the state's cap on charters.

Baker also defended his chairman of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Paul Sagan, who has donated generously to pro-charter causes, including a $100,000 donation to backers of the ballot question, the Campaign for Fair Access to Quality Public Schools.

"There are people on those boards that have opinions, OK? And they're interested in the issues. That's kind of why they're there in the first place," Baker said.


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