Nov 02, 2016


By Matt Murphy


STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, NOV. 2, 2016.....Against the backdrop of new financial concerns Question 2 could present for some Massachusetts cities, charter school leaders on Wednesday used test scores to make a case for why expanding access for students in minority communities will help close the achievement gap with their predominantly white, suburban peers.
The closely contested campaign over whether Massachusetts should expand access to charter school education has entered the home stretch with each side making near daily pitches with new studies, analyses, and television ads hoping to sway the small, but consequential bloc of undecided voters.
The Massachusetts Charter Public School Association used standardized test scores on the MCAS and PARCC exams to show that 10 charters ranked number one in student performance in certain categories, while 11 more charter schools ranked among the top 10 percent of schools statewide.
WATCH: Question 2 Supporters Highlight Charter School Achievement
Shannah Varon, executive director of Boston Collegiate Charter School in Dorchester and chair of the Boston Charter Alliance, said the highlighted schools, including her own, predominantly educate "low-income black and brown children" who match up comparably to high-performing students from the state's richest suburban districts, including Brookline, Lincoln, Hingham and Lexington.
"These strong MCAS and PARCC results add to the growing body of evidence of how charter schools are closing the achievement gap between black and brown low income urban student and their white suburban peers. Question 2 would allow the state to approve more of these proven schools in communities where they are needed most," she said.
Charter schools are privately run, outside of the local school committee structure, and funded with public dollars that follow students from traditional public school districts. Ballot Question 2 would authorize the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to license up to 12 new charter schools each year beyond existing caps, impacting no more than a dozen mostly urban districts, according to proponents.
Expansion opponents contend that charter schools siphon public education spending away from schools that educate 96 percent of school children in the state, impacting their ability to maintain or improve the quality of education for the majority of students.
The "Save Our Public Schools" campaign organized in opposition to Question 2 said looking at the test scores omits other concerning data about the highlighted charter schools.
"It's no coincidence that these 10 charter schools also have higher suspension rates, fewer English Language Learners, and fewer students with disabilities than the public schools in the cities where they are located. State data shows that these privately run charter schools push out students they don't want and focus on repetitive test prep, instead of working to help every student succeed," said Steve Crawford, a spokesman for "No on 2."
Thirty-two mayors and more than 200 school committees have come out against Question 2, in part because of the funding issues. Those financial concerns were bolstered Wednesday by a new report that Moody's - one of the three big credit rating agencies - notified four cities this week that passage of the ballot question would be "credit negative" for their communities.
While a full report from Moody's is not expected until after election day, city leaders in Boston, Springfield, Lawrence, and Fall River were notified by email about the credit agency's concerns, according to the Boston Globe.
Three years ago, the rating agency warned the "dramatic rise in charter school enrollments over the past decade is likely to create negative credit pressure on schools district in economically weak urban areas."
Treasurer Deborah Goldberg said she was not aware of any potential impact from the ballot question to the state's bond rating, but said any notice from a rating agency like Moody's should be taken seriously.
"As a former chairman of the board of selectmen in Brookline, if Moody's were to tell me that something such as this would impact our bond rating, and I used to live by the bond rating, I would be very, very concerned about it," she said.
Varon dismissed the argument that charters are a drain on the traditional public school system, pointing to a Boston Municipal Research Bureau study that she said showed Boston's school funding issues have to do with a host of factors, including contracts and efficient utilization of buildings.
"I understand why the other side is using that argument. It's a very powerful argument. Unfortunately, it's false," Varon said.
The "Yes on 2" campaign also went up with its final new advertisement that will run through election day highlighting the endorsements of newspapers from around the state, including a charge from The Sun of Lowell that the Massachusetts Teachers Association has run a media campaign that has "sown the seeds of fear through white, affluent neighborhoods."
The ad will run concurrently with one already on television featuring Gov. Charlie Baker.
After a string of high-profile endorsements of Question 2 - including former Education Secretary Arne Duncan and former interim U.S. Sen. Mo Cowan - Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday joined the opposition.
"This is Wall Street's attempt to line their own pockets while draining resources away from public education at the expense of low-income, special education students and English language learners," Sanders said in a statement.

We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few; but we can't have both. - Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis
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