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Friday, August 26, 2016

Mass voters asked to renew commitment to public education


The Massachusetts Democratic Committee overwhelmingly passed a resolution opposing Question 2, which seeks to lift the cap on charter schools.

Massachusetts teacher and daily reader Christine Langhoff expands on my early report (which she kindly sent to me as soon as the resolution passed). 

Thanks to Christine, I was able to circulate the good news before the daily press. It is kind of amusing seeing the complaint by the representative of DFER, the hedge fund managers’ group. 

Hedge funds are not generally viewed as champions of those without power; they lack numbers, but they are loaded with money and power. 

Parents and educators anticipate that the hedge funds and corporate interests will pour close to $20 million into their campaign for Question 2. 

Supporters of public schools can’t match the dollars, but they can knock on every door and alert every parent that the real goal of this deceptive campaign is privatization, not helping public schools.

She writes:

On Tuesday evening, August 16, the Massachusetts State Democratic Committee overwhelmingly passed a resolution, by voice vote, in opposition to Ballot Question #2, which would eliminate the cap on the number of charter schools permitted in the Commonwealth. Here is part of the text of the resolution, which was offered by Steve Tolman, President of the MA AFL-CIO:

Democratic State Committee Resolution Regarding Question 2

WHEREAS, the Massachusetts Democratic Party platform states that “Massachusetts Democrats are committed to investing in public education”; and

WHEREAS, the national Democratic Party platform states that charter schools “should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools”; and

WHEREAS, more than $400 million in taxpayer money was diverted to charter schools statewide last year from local school districts, forcing cuts to programs that families and students value; and

WHEREAS, charter schools typically serve far fewer special needs students, English language learners and economically disadvantaged students than the traditional public school districts they are located in and use hyper-disciplinary policies and suspensions for minor infractions to push out students; and


Liam Kerr, director of Democrats For Education Reform Massachusetts, was not amused.

“Tonight, a small group of state Democratic Party insiders hijacked a meeting and passed a resolution with little warning and no debate or discussion. Democratic leaders, including Hillary Clinton and President Obama support high-quality public charter schools. The Massachusetts party insiders are so out of step they won’t even listen to those who stand with low-income families and families of color desperate for a better education for their children. There was nothing democratic about this vote.”

The vote flew in the face of predictions by the pro-charter Boston Globe on Monday that it would be a divisive resolution:

“…forcing activists to take sides between two traditional party constituencies: minority and low-income families versus teachers unions…

A ballot proposal to expand charter schools across the state could drive a further wedge between Democratic Party factions when state committee members gather Tuesday night in Lawrence…

‘The charter school issue shows a genuine disagreement within the party, that there’s no consensus,’ said one party insider, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal Democratic dynamics. ‘And both sides are really intractable. The notion of a middle ground on charter schools within the Democratic Party, or among the people that are going to be showing up to this meeting, it just doesn’t exist.’ ”


The Globe got it wrong about a lack of consensus, as today’s report indicated only a “smattering” of opposition to the resolution. It also quoted New England NAACP head Juan Cofield who thanked state Democrats:

“In an emailed statement, NAACP New England Area conference president Juan Cofield, who also chairs the Campaign to Save Our Public Schools, said, ‘We applaud the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee for joining the campaign to save our public schools and opposing Question 2. They join more than 70 local communities and a broad coalition of families, parents, educators, students, and local leaders who understand that Question 2 is bad for our schools.’ ”


Even Boston’s pro-charter Mayor Walsh, himself a founder of a charter school, has publicly opposed Question 2, due to the projected $158 million it will siphon from Boston’s public schools next year without lifting the cap:


Here’s further reporting from State House News Service, much behind a paywall:

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON, AUG. 17, 2016…..

The Massachusetts Democratic Party on Tuesday night voted to oppose a ballot question that would expand charter schools in Massachusetts, putting the party at odds with some of its members in the Legislature.

“Our local communities cannot afford to lose even more money to charter schools,” said former Rep. Carol Donovan, a Democratic State Committee member from Woburn, in a statement. 

“Already, cities and towns [are] forced to make budget cuts every year due to the state’s underfunding of education and the money lost to charters. If this ballot question passes, it will create budget crises in hundreds of Massachusetts communities, and hurt the students who remain in our local district public schools.”

The party’s definitive position differs from the verdict of Democrats who run the Legislature and have differing opinions of charter schools. Legislative leaders were unable to broker a charter school compromise and have left the issue for voters to settle.

Sen. Michael Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat, and Rep. Frank Moran, a Lawrence Democrat, have both taken on prominent roles backing passage of Question 2, which would allow up to 12 new charter schools or charter expansions in Massachusetts annually regardless of a statutory cap.

The Senate this year passed “The Rise Act,” tying charter cap increases to additional investment in local education, at an estimated cost of $203 million to $212 million annually for seven years.

The bill knocked by critics who noted the lack of dedicated funding in the bill, which they described as placing on unfeasible burden on increasing access to a form of public education that operates outside the control of local school committees.

Rather than seek compromise with the Senate, House leaders abandoned hope of a legislative solution, allowing the question to be decided by voters on Nov. 8.


The RISE Act mentioned here would have made charters more transparent, holding them to standards similar to those for public schools, and was bitterly opposed by the charter lobby on those grounds, while public school advocates opposed the further funding of charters it would have enabled. The House failed to take up the measure.


On Twitter, head of the MassTeachers Asociation, Barbara Madeloni used the hashtags #alltheygotliesand$ and #wegotpeoplepoweranddemocracy, pointing out the dark money flowing in from out of state to fund charter growth. Maurice Cunningham, a professor of Political Science at UMass Boston has been tracking that money: