In downpour, Baker makes case for charter schools

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BOSTON >> The skies opened up on Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday as he stood on the front steps of the State House helping to promote a ballot campaign to expand the number of charter schools beyond current statutory caps.

"It's a beautiful day," Baker said before the steady drizzle turned into a downpour. He said, "I went to public schools in Massachusetts, and I got a great education. ... We took it as a given that we would get the kind of education that would prepare us for the future and give us the chance to deliver on all the dreams you have when you're a kid."

More charter school access would create better options, such as the kind he had, for Bay State schoolchildren, the governor said.

If passed by voters in November, Question 2 would allow the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to approve another 12 charter schools or charter school expansions outside caps on charter enrollment.

The issue of charter schools, which are public schools that use more experimental styles of teaching and operate outside the jurisdiction of local school committees, has tied up the House and Senate in disagreement.

Opponents of the charter school expansion ballot question, organized as Save Our Public Schools, argue charters sap too much money from district schools and say underperforming schools should be fixed with increased investment.

"Every time a new charter school opens or expands, it takes funding away from the public schools in that area. Under this proposal, the number of charter schools in Massachusetts would nearly triple in just 10 years, costing local public school districts more than $1 billion every single year," Save Our Public Schools said in a statement. The group estimated $400 million was "diverted" to charter schools statewide this school year.

The group opposing the question is chaired by Juan Cofield, president of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP, and has been endorsed by organized labor, such as the Massachusetts Teachers Association.

Great Schools has the backing of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, Democrats for Education Reform and the Massachusetts Fiscal Alliance, among others.

Great Schools initially planned to hold the kickoff event inside the State House, but decided to move it to the front steps after a complaint by Save Our Public Schools.

On an otherwise sunny and hot day, a warm shower soaked Baker and the crowd of supporters as they made their case. As drops pelted the governor's suit and supporters repurposed their signs into makeshift umbrellas, the governor shifted his rhetoric to match the weather.

"You know something folks: For too many children and too many families in the Commonwealth of Mass., it's been raining for a really long time," Baker said to cheers. "For too many families and too many kids the skies have not cleared. The sun does not shine. They do not get the chance and the opportunity to go to the school of their choice."


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