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Dear Neighbors,
On November 8, near the bottom of the presidential election ballot, there'll be a question about erasing the current limits on charter school expansion, which could have a very big impact on our schools. It’s Question 2.
I hope you'll join me in voting no.  Here are some reasons why:
1. Question 2 is extreme

It sounds modest: an increase of just 12 schools and only 1% of student enrollment. But that’s 12 schools every year; far faster than in the past 23 years, when 80 charters have been granted.  And it's 1% of the whole state's student enrollment: 9500 new seats a year, mostly in a relatively small number of districts.  That's a rate of new seats five times faster than previously.
Some strong supporters of charter schools are against Question 2 because they believe it goes too far.  It sets no limit at all on how much public school money can go to charters.
Boston Mayor Walsh, for example, wants to raise the current limits on charter school spending, but he’s against Question 2 because it would “wreak havoc on municipal finances.”

Bay State Banner editor Yawu Miller says in an interview, "What I’ve noticed in the debate in Boston is that people are not against charter schools. They think that there is a place for them. They think that charter schools work well for some people, maybe for their own children. But they don’t want to see the kind of expansion that’s being proposed now. They think there’s a threat to the district school system if that happens. You hear a lot of people saying *I’m not anti-charter. I’m against this ballot question.* I think the funding issue has caused a lot of people who pay attention to the schools to come out strongly against this."
 

2. The money to fund charter schools comes from district schools.
If a new charter school opens, the district has to either slash programs or close a school. You can’t spend the same dollar twice.
 
Question 2 backers say new charters cause the state to increase its aid to schools, but that’s misleading. The money they are talking about is temporary reimbursement that the state gives districts to soften their charter losses.  It allows districts to avoid slashing programs or closing schools immediately. They have about a year to make those tough decisions.  After that, the state money is gone.
 
If Question 2 passes, that stop-gap funding could cost well over $100 million a year. That money could otherwise be spent to meet other important state needs.
 
Is charter expansion a better use for $100 million than pre-school for low-income children, a proven way to reduce the achievement gap?
3. Many charter schools don’t educate the children who need the most help.
This photo shows Gov. Baker announcing his support for eliminating the charter cap in front of the Brooke Charter School in Mattapan. Notice the signs in Spanish. But inside the school, only 3.6 percent of the students are English language learners, compared with 30 percent in the Boston district schools.
 
Brooke also has half the percentage of children with disabilities. And suspends twice as many students as district schools.
 
Despite that poor record, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education awarded Brooke 700 more seats last year.

 
4. Local people have no control over the opening of a new charter school or how it’s run.
The day the state board awarded those 700 seats to Brooke (and 400 more to other Boston charter schools), the chair of the Boston School Committee begged them not to. He pointed out that their plan would force $17.5 million in painful, new cuts for the district schools.
 
He came away “dumbfounded" to learn that the board does not consider the impact of new charter seats on the school districts they draw from.
 
State board members say the law requires them to ignore the harm to district schools when they approve a new charter. 

School committees have limited budgets.  When districts lose students and tuition dollars, they have to cut programs and eventually close schools.  If a proposed charter had been granted in Somerville, for example, it was projected that we would have to close a popular elementary school.  Some families would get a new choice; others would lose theirs. 
 
In a recent radio debate, former state Rep. Marty Walz, representing Yes on 2, was asked about an Annenberg Institute analysis that showed many charter school boards are dominated by financiers and corporate executives, and that 60 percent of the boards have no parent representative at all — especially schools with mostly minority children. What about democratic control? she was asked.
 
Her answer:  “It is local control that got us into the situation that we’re in. The reason charter schools exist is because local school districts have wholly failed to educate far too many children in this state.”
 
That reminded me of something Winston Churchill said: “Democracy is the worst form of government – except for all the others.”
 
Yes, there are schools that aren’t doing the job, but many more are excellent, despite the challenges they must cope with. And taking away their money isn’t going to make them better.

Having financiers and corporate executives run our schools won't solve our problems. Local, elected School Committee members may make mistakes, but they are accountable to the parents, voters, and taxpayers of their district and their job is to improve education for all of our children.
5. Cambridge, Medford, and Somerville would be directly affected by Question 2.
   
Question 2 would let the state board open or expand up to 12 new charter schools with up to 9500 seats, every single year, in the small number of districts that are close to the current charter “cap.” For most districts, the cap is 9 percent of district school spending.  Most of that money comes from local property taxes.
 
Cambridge, Medford, and Somerville are all close to the 9 percent limit. (Winchester is not, so Winchester can lose funding to a new charter with or without the ballot question.)
 
You may have heard that Question 2 would apply to “low-performing” districts. But the ballot question only says the state board should give “priority” to low-scoring districts. If 8 schools open in Boston, that will leave 4 available in higher-scoring districts. 

And since test scores largely reflect social class, you may be very surprised to find out what "low-scoring" means.  A quarter of the districts in our state, educating 40% of the students, are deemed "low-scoring" by the ballot question.  This is in the state with the highest achievement scores in the country.
Just a few days ago, Sen. Elizabeth Warren announced that she will vote No on Question 2. She said, “I am very concerned about what this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters. Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind.”
 
All the School Committees in our district, along with over 130 others, have passed resolutions opposing Question 2. 
Want to know more?  I've summarized some of the research I did for the special Senate Committee on Innovative Education in several white papers. You can read and comment on 3 of them by clicking on:

The Iron Triangle of Poverty, Low Spending, Low Scores

Charter Schools
Real Solutions
If you would like to join the campaign against Question 2, please respond to this email.  And I welcome your comments.
 
                                           Best wishes and stay in touch,

 

Copyright © 2016, Committee to Re-Elect Pat Jehlen
All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is: 67 Dane St, Somerville MA 02143

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