An extraordinary battle over charter schools is consuming this state
Fights over charter schools have become commonplace, but the one being waged right now in Massachusetts — which has long had as fine a public education system as any state in the country — isn’t your ordinary battle.
Question 2, an initiative on Tuesday’s ballot to approve the raising of the state’s cap on charter schools, is the most expensive ballot initiative in the country — with at least $35 million reportedly raised by both sides — and it’s been as bitter as any. The campaign in support of Question 2 seemed sure to be a success when it started, enjoying bipartisan support, but as time went on, opposition grew.
And now, whatever happens on Tuesday in Massachusetts could affect the national fight over the growth of charter schools, which supporters say give parents more educational choices for their children, and which critics say drain resources from traditional public schools, typically under-serve the highest-needs students and are not accountable to the local communities.
There are now nearly 80 charter schools in Massachusetts, some of them among the highest-achieving schools in the state. Massachusetts has capped the total number at 120 charter schools, but Question 2 seeks to raise that cap, allowing the state to authorize 12 new or expanded charter schools to open every year, effectively blowing the idea of a cap.
The maneuvering over Question 2 has brought all of the elements we’ve come to expect in charter wars: big money from outside the state; concerns about the use of “dark money;” Wall Street involvement; charges of arrogance from both sides; a nasty advertising campaign, marked by pro-charter ads created by the firm that made the infamous “Swift Boat” 2004 ads against then-Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry; and a split among Democrats about the virtues and drawbacks of more charters.
President Obama hasn’t weighed in, but his secretary of education, John King Jr., did, telling the Boston Globe that if he lived in Massachusetts, he would vote “yes.” Obama’s former secretary of education, Arne Duncan, supports it too, as does the Democrats for Education Reform advocacy group. The Boston Globe’s editorial board agrees, as does Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who said in a pro-charter ad: “Imagine if your kid was trapped in a failing school. Public charter schools give parents a choice and are a pathway for these kids.”
But the opposition is strong, too. Dozens of local school districts have come out against the initiative, as has the Massachusetts Parent Teachers Organization. Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren opposes Question 2, saying in a recent statement that while “many charter schools in Massachusetts are producing extraordinary results for our students,” she is concerned that traditional public schools could be harmed An extraordinary battle over charter schools is consuming this state - The Washington Post: