Marc Kenen: The 'Big Lie' on charter funding

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BOSTON >> For more than 20 years, opponents of public charter schools have consistently told "The Big Lie" that charter public schools drain funds from public education. This argument ignores the fact that charter schools are public schools and they bring more funding and choice to public education, not less! With Question 2 on the November ballot to lift arbitrary enrollment caps on public charter schools, it is critical the public know the truth.

These caps are preventing public charter schools from opening or expanding in the areas that need them most, including Boston, Fall River, Holyoke, Lawrence and Lowell. Question 2 would guarantee fair access to high quality public schools by allowing up to 12 new charters a year, with priority given to underperforming school districts.

As school districts consistently blame public charter schools for their financial woes, they neglect to mention that the state reimburses districts for six years after students leave for public charters. Districts ultimately reap 225 percent of the annual cost of that student's education. The legislature has funded this plan at more than 95 percent in nine of the last 12 years.

What this means is that public charter schools actually bring more money for public education into communities where they are located. Over the last five years, taxpayers have invested more than $350 million to reimburse district schools. Over the life of the reimbursement program, districts have received nearly $1 billion in additional state assistance as a result of charters!

As public schools, charter public schools and their families are entitled to their fair share of the per pupil public education funding. When parents choose to send their children to charters, they are deciding where they want their public education dollars spent.

Charter schools are nonprofit public schools that operate independent of local districts, and are not bound by local teachers union contracts. Their students are public school children; their teachers are public school teachers; their parents are residents and taxpayers in the communities where they are located. For-profit charters are outlawed in Massachusetts. There are no "investors" as stated by opponents.

Meet high standards

Charters are open to all students, recruit and retain students from all backgrounds and abilities, and hold random lotteries to determine which students ultimately enroll. Charter students must take all state assessment exams (MCAS/PARCC) and have the same graduation requirements as district students.

New charters are proposed by teachers, school leaders, parents, non-profit organizations, or other members of the community. They must go through an approval process ranked as the toughest in the nation. This ensures only high quality applications are approved.

Charters are approved and overseen by the state Board of Education and are managed by public Boards of Trustees that must follow all public information and open meeting laws and whose members are unpaid volunteers subject to state conflict of interest laws. Charter finances are public.

Charters are given more flexibility to organize around a core mission, curriculum, theme, or teaching method; they are allowed to control their own budgets and hire and fire teachers and staff. In return for this freedom, they must demonstrate good results within five years or risk losing their charters.

Charters have provided high quality public educational options for families in urban, suburban and rural communities across the state. Charters provide hundreds of additional hours in the classroom through longer school days and longer years. They establish a culture of excellence, setting high standards for their teachers and students and providing the additional supports they need to succeed.

Right now, more than 30,000 children are stranded on public charter school waiting lists hoping for an opportunity for a better education and a brighter future, an opportunity that likely will not come unless arbitrary enrollment caps are lifted at the ballot box this November. We urge voters not to be fooled by "The Big Lie" about charter funding, and vote to provide fair access to quality public schools. Vote Yes on 2.

Marc Kenen is the executive director of the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association.


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