The second question on the Massachusetts ballot would allow lawmakers to create up to 12 new charter schools each year for an indefinite period. The text of the initiative as it will appear on the ballot can be read here.
Charter schools have only operated in Massachusetts since a 1994 law enabled their creation. According to the Department of Education, there are now 78 charter schools in the Commonwealth, serving thousands of children. Because of the impact that new charter schools would have on thousands of Massachusetts children, it is vital to examine information from both sides of the argument before making a decision this November.
There are a few key players in support of the initiative.
The political advocacy group Great Schools Massachusetts exists exclusively to support Question 2. The group argues that charter schools help to close the achievement gap among groups that have historically underperformed. It believes that charter schools do not drain money from public school systems because in the commonwealth, funding is assigned to the student not to the school. Additionally, even if a student moves to a charter school, the district receives additional funds from the state.
Governor Charlie Baker has noted that new charter schools will take tens of thousands of children off of waitlists. He intends to reform the way that money is allocated to increase the reimbursements that district schools receive off of charter school tuitions.
The Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, meanwhile, released a report rejecting the claim that charter schools take money away from public schools. The report shows that the proportion of students who attend charter schools (3.9 percent) is equal to the percent of funding that the schools receive (3.9 percent).
In an interview with the HPR, Eileen McAnneny, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, argued that charter schools give parents more choice in the education of their children and emphasized that charter schools are highly concentrated in low-performing districts. “For the vast majority of school districts in the commonwealth, the impact is minimal because there aren’t that many students going to charter schools in the district. The enrollment is highly concentrated,” she said, adding that the extending district receives a portion of the funds that were sent to the charter school.
The Massachusetts Teachers Association has come out strongly in opposition to Question 2. In an interview with the HPR, Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, called Question 2 “particularly reckless,” claiming that Massachusetts traditional public schools lose $450,000,000 a year to charter schools and that because the state budget is already over $1 billion short, an annual increase in the number of charter schools “would really destabilize public schools.”
Madeloni also addressed the economic argument against charter schools: “While you might say that money follows the child, the costs stay at the district. So fixed costs, like librarians, extracurricular activities, building costs, and even teachers stay but lose money. And that’s having a real impact on schools.”
Madeloni referenced studies conducted on high schools in western Massachusetts, which “showed that the families of the students who go to charter schools are upper-middle class families, not middle class or lower-middle class families.”
Senator Elizabeth Warren (D – Mass.) has also stated her opposition to the initiative, saying that although the schools are “producing extraordinary results for our students, and we should celebrate the hard work of those teachers,” she worries about the effect increasing the total number of charter schools would have on “those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters.”