Should the charter school cap be lifted?

This November, many are focused on the national debate between two polarizing politicians.

However, there also are important questions up for debate locally. Question 2 on this November’s ballot would raise the current charter school cap by 12 schools, providing that enrollment in charter school does not rise above 1% of total school enrollment throughout all of Massachusetts.

There are many factors that play into a question such as this, all of which were debated Tuesday at UMass-Boston.

“It is local control that got us into this situation that we’re in, where tens of thousands of children are being left behind by their local district schools,” said former Democratic state representative Marty Walz. “The reason charter schools exist is because local school districts have wholly failed to educate far too many children in this state.”

Opposing this legislation are teachers, most notably the Massachusetts Teachers Association according to a massteacher.org article, as well as select politicians. Their reasoning is charter schools drain money from local districts.

By law, students who leave for charter schools also take a portion of state aid with them. To assist the district school with this, they are given a reimbursement to help adjust the loss of dollars. To some, the loss of aid seems logical, since the public school is no longer educating the student who went to a charter school.

“This is money allocated from the state to educate children in the public schools – both district schools and charter schools,” said Walz said at Tuesday’s debate.

However, groups like the NAACP call charter schools “separate and unequal”. According to the massteacher.org article, charter schools have not been enrolling and recruiting high-need students that law requires them to, and many charter schools are lacking in English-language learners, special needs students, or financially strapped students.

This ballot question is very hotly contested, with 48% against the expansion, 41% supporting the question, leaving 11% undecided.

Also coming under fire is the sheer amount being raised to fund both the Support and Oppose campaigns ($12 million and $6.78 million respectively), as well as those who are donating. Large businesses have been backing the “Support” group, including National Amusements president Shari Redstone, EMC (now Dell Technologies), Partners HealthCare, and the Kraft Group to name a few. Having big corporations backing the support side has cast doubt on the legitimacy of their argument. Also on the “support” team are several nonprofit groups who, by law, do not have to disclose their funders. This allows the donations to remain anonymous.

“They effectively launder their money through intermediary groups, and it’s effectively legal to do that,” said Paul Ryan, deputy executive director of the Campaign Legal Center. The Center is a nonpartisan organization that works for greater transparency in political spending. “This is the so-called dark money problem that is growing throughout the US.”

Regardless of the poll numbers now in September, there’s still two months left until voters go to the polls. This leaves the future of Massachusetts’s public schools with an uncertain future.

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