Friday, September 23, 2016
Charter School Question Should Be Defeated
Charter School Question Should Be Defeated
Posted: Thursday, September 22, 2016 11:00 pm
On Nov. 8, Massachusetts voters will decide if the cap on charter schools should be raised. If approved, Question 2 will allow for up to 12 new charter schools per year and-or expansion of existing ones.
This is a very complicated issue, far too complicated to be decided by a ballot referendum question that does not lend itself to sufficient discussion and debate of the facts. It will have far-reaching effects, not just on our educational system, but on local municipal finances and services in every Massachusetts city and town.
This should be decided by our Legislature. It requires careful scrutiny, detailed study, impact statements on all services to be affected by its potential passage — and most important of all, a careful determination of what the educational impact is on the vast majority of school children.
But the truth is, our legislators and the governor have gladly passed this responsibility along to the voters. It takes the pressure off them, much the same way Proposition 2 1/2 did more than three decades ago. It is yet another attempt to solve 351 different and individual problems by applying a single broad solution, rather than looking at the real reasons that caused them in our public schools.
Having said that, the fact remains it is indeed on the ballot. And the question is — what should be done with it?
There is no doubt in my mind this well-intentioned, but ill-advised, proposal should be defeated. While it would create some excellent schools and provide wonderful opportunities for a limited number of students, the overall impact on the public school system at large and the quality of life in our cities and towns would be detrimental to the entire concept of public education — which originated here in Massachusetts.
The problem is not the concept — it is the funding. It is always the funding. The tie between education and money may be distasteful and controversial, but it is also undeniable and critical. Quality education costs more money than bad education, although in the long run bad education is much more expensive to society.
Charter school supporters will tell you the funding of those schools does not come at the expense of public schools. That simply is not true. It can be spun in such a way that it appears to be true, but it absolutely is not.
The single most misleading statistic in Massachusetts politics is the “per-pupil cost” when discussing education. To explain exactly why would take more room than this space allows, but more than 40 years of local governmental experience has proven this to me. That is the center of this argument.
It is noted that aid to schools is not decreased when a student leaves for a charter school, but merely redistributed. That is phony math. If the per-pupil cost is calculated at $5,000 each, adding one student does not increase costs by that amount. Taking one away does not decrease it by that amount either.
Charter school proponents note local school districts don’t lose state aid in the first year. That is technically true, but the long-term financial effect is potentially devastating.
But most of all, the real question keeps coming up: Shouldn’t we be fixing the system for the majority, and not just creating an attractive alternative for a small minority?
The selection process for charter schools is largely random, and proponents say everyone has an equal chance of being selected. Assuming that to be true, it still makes many wonder why all this effort, money and dedication to new approaches isn’t being done on a larger scale within the current system?
Is this just a way to break the teacher unions? If it is, say so and don’t play games.
If we need to change the public school system, let’s do it. Let’s commit to improvements, both philosophical and monetary. Let’s get away from making education largely a function of the property tax and work toward eliminating the great inequity from community to community.
But this is not the answer. This is giving up on our current system without admitting it. This is failing most of the very children we seek to help.
We should defeat Question 2, and work on helping all students.
Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and longtime local official. He can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @Billinsidelook.