CPS Statement (2-22-16) to MA BESE on Charter School Expansion

February 22, 2016

To: Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education members From: Lisa Guisbond, Executive Director, Citizens for Public SchoolsRe: New charter schools in Springfield and Brockton and expansion of existing charters

I write on behalf of CPS members, including public school parents, educators and students across the Commonwealth, in opposition to new charter schools in Springfield and Brockton and expansion of existing charters in Boston.

Our members believe that more charter schools and charter school seats will mean more public school students, not fewer, would be deprived of their right to a quality, well-rounded public school education.

We strongly agree with the views expressed in a Feb. 20 Brockton Enterprise editorial, “Just say no to charter school in Brockton.” As the editorial said, “New Heights is an example of what public school supporters predicted as the worst-case scenario. Its aim is to skim the best students off the top of local schools, leaving those schools with less money and students who need more tending. New Heights has a website, but it is in many ways a stealth proposal. The people behind it have been very low profile… So take the best and brightest out of traditional public school systems and make sure those kids get into college. That’s not what American education is about.” (The full editorial is here: http://www.enterprisenews.com/news/20160220/our-opinion-just-say-no-to-charter-school-in-brockton)

In its McDuffy decision, the Supreme Judicial Court held that the education clause imposes on the Commonwealth an enforceable duty to provide an education for all its children, rich and poor, in every city and town through the public schools. The court said all children. That’s what real public schools do and should do. The record shows that is not what charter schools do.

DESE estimates that Massachusetts public schools will lose more than $408 million this fiscal year, after reimbursement. (Boston alone is losing at least $119 million, after reimbursement.) We share the concerns of many parents, students and teachers in Brockton, Springfield and Boston that additional charter seats will mean students in district schools will continue to lose access to art, music, physical education, and social workers so that a relatively small number can go to privately managed, publicly funded schools.

As for waiting lists, as you know, State Auditor Suzanne Bump said there’s no way to know if the charter school waiting list numbers are accurate. ​Even if accurate, the charter advocates’ own research says 27% of students who are offered charter school seats in sixth grade turn them down, and it’s 61% for ninth grade, so many thousands of students who are supposedly waiting for charter seats don’t actually want them.

The charter school issue is nothing if not contentious, pitting parents, students and teachers against one another for a finite pot of money. Instead of continuing to foster the inevitable divisiveness over charters, let’s invest in something that virtually everyone agrees is valuable and effective: quality early childhood education. Instead of spending millions on expanding charters, why don’t we reduce the waiting list for subsidized day care (now at 17,000 children)?

CPS does not blame any individual parents for seeking what they believe to be in the best interests of their children. Nor do we blame young, inexperienced, idealistic teachers who seek and find teaching positions in these schools. But we do hold our state education leaders and elected representatives accountable for making policies that serve the needs of every child in the Commonwealth. Our current path leads toward an entrenched, separate and unequal system of public education. Its time to acknowledge that and move in a different direction, toward equitably resourced schools for all children and publicly accountable schools for all.