Kevin Andrews: Fear and loathing about charter schools
BOSTON _ Opponents of Question 2 to allow more public charter schools in low-performing school districts have been employing scare tactics to spread fear about its impact, arguing it would result in uncontrolled growth of public charter schools that would bankrupt district schools. The special interests behind this effort are trying to hoodwink voters into denying educational choices to families whose children are stuck in failing schools.
Question 2 is about choice, access and equity. It is focused on the state's lowest performing districts — those that rank in the bottom 25 percent academically — and are frozen to new charters
Today, more than half the children served by urban districts attend schools the state has labelled as "underperforming." Families who cannot afford private schools or a suburban home lack high quality options. For the past 20 years, public charter schools in Massachusetts have filled that quality gap, but room has run out in many of these urban districts.
Question 2 would allow the state to approve up to 12 new public charter schools, or expansions of existing public charter schools, per year targeted for communities like Boston, Springfield, Holyoke, Fall River, and Lawrence where high quality options are lacking and tens of thousands of children are stranded on charter school waiting lists.
Question 2 would not affect high-performing, mostly suburban communities like Newton, Amherst, Andover, or Belmont. These communities have plenty of room under existing caps, are not underperforming and do not have heavy demand for public charters.
The state has deliberately focused charter expansion in underperforming urban districts, and that would not change if Question 2 passed. Since 1999, only two charters have opened in suburban districts. Yet, that's where opponents are spreading the false narrative that if Question 2 passes, hundreds of millions of dollars would be drained from their suburban schools.
Led mainly by the teachers union, opponents have been distributing materials warning parents of impending cuts to coveted educational programs if Question 2 passes. They have illegally been using schools as their distribution centers for campaign material, and putting intense political pressure on local school committees to spread this fear.
The vast majority of the school committees that have voted against Question 2 represent communities that would not be impacted by it. They are either not up against current caps or are not in districts ranked in the bottom 25 percent.
Opponents have also stoked fear by seizing on the number of new charters or charter expansions proposed by Question 2 — "up to 12" per year — multiplying it by infinity, and concluding Question 2 would result in a charter takeover of public education.
The growth of charter schools in Massachusetts has been deliberate and slow. On average, the state has approved only three-four new charters per year. Only once were more than 10 approved in one year. The state's existing approval and oversight process is considered the strongest in the nation, resulting in what even the chief opponent to Question 2 admitted were the best charter schools in the country. That process does not change.
The idea that 12 would be approved every year in perpetuity is nonsense.
Public charter schools are nothing to fear.
They are non-profit public schools that operate independent of local districts, and are not bound by local teachers union contracts. New charters are proposed by teachers, school leaders, parents, non-profit organizations, or other members of the community. For-profit charters are outlawed in Massachusetts; there are no "investors" as falsely stated by opponents.
Charters are open to all students, recruit and retain students from all backgrounds and abilities, and hold random enrollment lotteries. They provide hundreds of additional hours in the classroom through longer school days and longer years. They set high standards for their teachers and students and provide the additional supports they need to succeed.
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 about charter schools, and vote to provide fair access to quality public schools. Vote Yes on 2.
Kevin Andrews spent the past 40 years working in public education in suburban and urban schools, as a teacher, principal and union president. Most recently he was the Headmaster of the Neighborhood House Charter School in Dorchester.
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