Monday, February 29, 2016

MA: Charters Hate Compromise

This morning's Boston Post Globe reports that a "Bitter Fight Brewing over Mass. Charter School Expansion" (though it could also have been "Mass Charter Expansion"). And while the battle has not been "brewing" so much as "going on for a while now," the article centers on one question-- can the legislature come up with a compromise on increasing the number of MA charters, or will the whole mess end up as a ballot initiative in the fall?

Massachusetts jumped on the charter bus with real enthusiasm back in 2010 when they saw it as a way to grab some Race To The Trough money (charters had been around for considerably longer, but RTTT really ramped the business up), but of course that money is no longer available, and local districts and taxpayers are noticing what charter school "hosts" everywhere notice-- that funding a new entitlement for students to attend private school at public expense is costly.

The battle is playing out mostly in the Senate-- the charter-reformster industry has already purchased themselves a governor and a House of Representatives in Massachusetts.

Reporter David Scharfenberg suggests that in the past, charter legislation has been an area of compromise, but this time offers a different summation:

“It’s the pure charter play this time,” said Martha “Marty” Walz, a management and public affairs consultant who helped usher the 2010 bill into law as cochairwoman of the Legislature’s education committee.

The governor has tried to sweeten the pot by budgeting more money for the big pile used to re-imburse districts (temporarily) for the money sucked out by charters, but Senate President Stanley C. Rosenberg is moving above that, suggesting that legislators look at issues "from financing, to governance, to admission and retention of hard-to-educate populations, like special needs students and English language learners."

The charter industry doesn't much like that idea.

“We have the highest-performing public charter school sector in the nation,” said Mary Jo Meisner, executive vice president of communications at the Boston Foundation, which has been a strong charter advocate. “Opening that up to radical change is a scary thought.”

Continued Meisner, "How are we supposed to have high performing charters if we serve the same students as the public system? Our success depends on being highly selective with our student body and booting students who make us look bad back to the public schools." Ha! Kidding-- the charter industry continues to avoid anything remotely like honesty about these provisions. In fact, the charter industry and #1 Fan Governor Charlie Baker continue to read the own PR so much that they believe they would win a ballot fight (plus they know just how many giant piles of money they threaten to throw at such a ballot question- about $18 million total).

Senator Patricia D. Jehlen is unimpressed. “If a bully comes and asks for your lunch money one day and you give it to him, does that keep him from coming back the next day?”

Fighting tough union leader Barbara Madeloni has different thoughts as well.

“We want to go to the ballot box, that’s what our poll numbers are telling us,” said Barbara Madeloni, president of the union. “I really think the narrative about charter schools is shifting.”

Shift though it may, the signs are clear-- charter schools in Massachusetts have key government positions on their side and they want their giant pile of money, and they want it unencumbered by any sorts of rules that require them to be part of public education's mandate to educate all students. Once again, charters really could be a part of a robust and fully- (and honestly-) funded public education system, but in states like Massachusetts, it seems that what the current charter industry wants is to exist outside public education, in a special bubble where all they have to do is operate some very selective schools and rake in some very large piles of public tax dollars. Here's hoping that the Massachusetts voters set them straight.

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