The public debate over the merits of Massachusetts ballot Question 2 has been enfeebled by its he-said-she-said quality. Those who want the referendum defeated, with whom I agree,* have presented their case vaguely; their obtuseness could lead to passage of the referendum, to the detriment of nearly a million public school students.
If Save Our Schools, in its TV ads, would say just a little more, it would make its case ironclad.
They would also expose the corporation-laden opposition’s cynical assumption that a significant number of voters will, for whatever reason, accept uncritically any assertion made on a TV political aid as factual. In other words, they assume they can win because a large portion of the electorate lacks bullshit detectors.
If passed, the ballot question would remove the limit on the number of charter schools that can be established in the commonwealth. Those in favor say that Massachusetts is loaded down with under-performing schools, and that charter schools districts offer high-quality educational alternatives.
Charter schools are private, and they have disparate foci. For instance, in Hadley, Mass., are located the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion School and the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts School. The referendum calls for licensing of no more than 12 new schools each year; 78 operate now.**
When a child transfers from his or her public school to a charter school, the money budgeted to educate the child is transferred from the public school district to the charter school.
What we have seen on TV has boiled down to this:
· Save Our Public Schools has spent $714,400 on advertising to inform the public that charter schools take money from public schools.
· Not true, asserts Great Schools Massachusetts, which has spent $10.8 million on ads to assert that the more charter schools there are, the more the state funds public schools.
In January the truth, in all its complexity, was reported by The Boston Globe:
``When a student enrolls in a charter school, state law requires that the public school district in which they reside pay the student’s tuition costs. The state is then supposed to reimburse that cost. But that doesn’t always happen.’’
So, what Save Our Public Schools has failed to spell out is that Massachusetts makes some reimbursements to public schools, but not remotely enough to cover the difference.
For the fiscal year that ended June 30, charter school tuitions totaled $486, 259,852. The state reimbursed $73,448,032. Public schools had to cover the difference -- $412,811,820.
Charter school proponents, also citing education department figures, have appealed the public to consider the 32,646 students who are on waiting lists to get into charter schools.
That sounds like a lot of students, but keep in mind that that leaves exactly 917,007 public-school students who don’t wish to transfer. So of all public school students, only 3.6 percent want to get out.
Another way to illustrate the discrepancy is to point out that 32,646 would fill 86 percent of Fenway Park’s 37,949 seats. While the charter school waiting list equals less than one Fenway Park, 917,007 would fill 28 Fenway Parks.
I don’t mean to make light of any student’s desire to go to a school that is better than the one they are in now, but 3.6 percent just does not justify removing, year after year, hundreds of thousands of dollars from the state’s public school budget.
The more charter schools there are, the worse that problem will get.
* I am a substitute teacher at three public school districts in western Massachusetts.
** Statistics regarding spending on advertising are taken from the Massachusetts Office of Campaign & Political Finance Web site. Information pertaining to the number of charter schools and enrollment are taken from the Web site of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
Copyright © 2016 Daniel Steven Miller