People Power Trounces Big, Dark Money, as Charter Expansion Suffers Decisive Defeat
A bright spot in an extremely dark election landscape came from Massachusetts voters, who soundly defeated a ballot question to lift restrictions on charter school expansion last week. Question 2 would have allowed 12 new or expanded charters a year, every year, forever, eventually allowing billions of dollars to go from district schools to charters.
The question’s defeat was a victory for public schools and for the power of educating the public about charter schools. The Save Our Public Schools campaign’s message, disseminated by an army of teachers, parents, grandparents and students, proved more compelling than the false narrative carried on a huge wave of out-of-state dark money, the most ever spent on a Massachusetts ballot initiative. The margin of defeat was a decisive 62 to 38 percent.
The yes side, backed by Wall Street, hedge funders and other wealthy backers of “education reform,” spent twice as much as the no side on TV ads. The “No on 2” team, in contrast, invested in building a grass roots movement that made more than 1.5 million voter contacts in doors knocked and phone calls made, as well as many other one-to-one conversations with family, friends and neighbors. All told, the yes side spent $24 million to the no side’s $14.5 million.
Massachusetts voters were subjected to an onslaught of confusing and contradictory TV ads. Yes on 2 ads tried to counter No on 2’s central message, that charters were already siphoning hundreds of millions of precious education dollars away from traditional district schools, which educate 96% of the Commonwealth’s students. Their ads claimed that public schools were not being harmed, that charters actually brought more money (the logic being that charters are “public” schools, so the state’s inadequate reimbursement formula added to the overall education funding pie). But anyone connected with an actual public school could see shrinking resources and cuts to things like art, music, science, transportation, and librarians.
I canvassed every weekend from the summer through the fall and saw that the confusion created an opportunity to appeal to voters’ common sense. How could it be possible to create a new, publicly funded, privately managed school system and not take resources away from existing schools? Add to that the fact that a bipartisan state commission concluded we are already underfunding our schools by at least $1 billion a year, and the picture starts to come into focus.
And consider that first 100, then 150 and finally 214 Massachusetts school committees passed resolutions opposing Question 2 and the People Power Trounces Big, Dark Money, as Charter Expansion Suffers Decisive Defeat - Network For Public Education: