Dear Fellow Massachusetts Voter:
If you’re paying attention to education issues this election season, you probably know that every major newspaper in the Commonwealth (plus in Providence) is urging you to vote “Yes” on ballot question 2 which would allow for up to 12 new public charter schools or charter school expansions in your state each year.
If you follow the debate closely, you probably also know that Boston and a few other Massachusetts cities have some of the best public charter schools in the country and a long waiting list of mostly low-income Black and Latino kids eager to enroll in these successful schools.
And if you follow the debate really closely, you might even know that current state law allows for up to 120 charter schools and Massachusetts only has about 80. The other 40, however, are dedicated to suburban and rural areas where they are either not wanted or not needed. The current cap only exists in urban areas such as Boston, Fall River, Lawrence, and Springfield.
So if you live in those suburban or rural areas the question you might be asking is, why does this matter to you? These schools don’t serve your children and they don’t exist in your community.
Now, if you believe what teacher unions are saying, it matters to you because charters allegedly “drain” money from your schools. Don’t believe it. It’s a flat-out lie.
Your suburban and rural schools won’t lose a penny if Boston, Springfield, Lowell or Worcester add more charters.
If you’re a politically progressive voter like me, as many Massachusetts voters are, you should vote “Yes” because public charter schools are helping the same children and families that you vote to help with other progressive policies like job-training, social services, and free health care.
If you’re a conservative voter, you should vote “Yes” because charter schools empower parents to choose their schools, forcing schools to compete for students by improving performance. Competition makes public school officials more responsive to the needs of the parents and students they serve.
Those of us who support charters also think you have a moral obligation to vote “Yes” and allow for more charters because they are making a positive difference in the lives of children who have been trapped in underperforming urban schools for decades. If you lived in those cities, you’d probably be fighting to get your kids in those charter schools because they get great results compared to the surrounding neighborhood schools.
If you are wealthy, you probably chose to live in communities with high-performing, well-funded schools. Poor families don’t have that choice. They can’t afford to live where you live.
Even if you’re not wealthy, you may be happy with your public schools and don’t feel any need to bring charters into your community. Again, that’s your choice and no one will take that away from you or force charter schools into communities without significant demand.
Now if you still need another reason to vote “Yes,” consider this. Millions of young people come out of school each year without the knowledge or skills to compete in the current economy, contributing to poverty, crime, unemployment, poor health, and other social problems.
America spends billions and billions of dollars every year at the federal, state and local level to address these social issues. As a society, we can either keep spending billions each year to feed, house or imprison undereducated young people or we can do a better job of educating them. Charter schools in Massachusetts are the one solution to what used to seem like an intractable social problem: closing the academic achievement gap between poor kids of color and rich white kids.
So the choice is actually very simple. You can vote for more high-quality schools serving disadvantaged families in Massachusetts or you can be satisfied with the status quo of underperforming schools and the associated costs. On November 8, vote “Yes” on 2.