On Tuesday, Nov. 8, Massachusetts voters will have the chance to cast their ballots in one of the most important contests of this century. No, not the presidential election (spoiler alert: Clinton wins Massachusetts by 20 points), but Ballot Question 2, a ballot initiative that would allow for the creation of up to 12 new charter schools in the state per year. There are currently 78 active charter schools in Massachusetts serving nearly 40,000 students. Adding 12 more would give some of the 34,000 students on charter school waitlists opportunities for better education and better lives.
Under Massachusetts law, charter schools are public schools. They differ, however, in their freedom to innovate and experiment with new initiatives and new programs, as well as in their responsiveness to input from parents and students. Massachusetts charter schools follow the same basic laws as district schools, are heavily audited and regulated and are required to select their students via lottery, meaning they cannot select only those students who are most likely to increase the schools’ test scores.
Charter schools do not divert money from existing public schools; they are public schools. When kids move between schools, their state funding moves with them. Their previous school’s “loss” is the new school’s gain. Charter schools simply give parents and students another option.
Charter schools in Massachusetts have been successful in attracting students into the public school system, and they actually increase state funding for public schools. In fact, a study by the Manhattan Institute shows that charter schools increased per-pupil funding in Massachusetts by $85 million this year. These charter schools are among the best in the nation, and they serve a disproportionately high number of low income and minority students compared to the general Massachusetts population. In fact, a 2013 Stanford University study showed that Massachusetts charter schools have more poor students than traditional public schools (47 percent versus 33 percent), and more than twice the percentage of black and Hispanic students (49 percent versus 23 percent). Many poor and minority students recognize that the traditional public school system simply does not work for them, and charter schools give them the power to choose a better option. The same Stanford study showed that students in Massachusetts charter schools have achieved a learning gain of nearly two months in reading and three months in math per year, as compared to similar traditional public schools. The results are even more impressive when one looks only at Boston charter schools, which the Stanford study finds to be the best in the nation. Charter schools in Boston provide a learning gain of an entire year in both math and reading compared to similar traditional public schools. Education gains are so extreme that in Boston, minority charter students perform better than white students in traditional public schools.
If these charter schools are successfully helping so many children, who would oppose them? Anti-charter school groups have already spent nearly $7 million dollars running ads against Ballot Question 2. The majority of the funding has come from a collection of teachers unions. Why do these unions oppose charter schools? It’s not hard to figure out. Most (88 percent) charter schools are not unionized. More charter schools means less power for the existing unions. Thus, the teachers unions oppose charter schools to protect their dominance over public education, even if it means students get worse education.
Ballot Question 2 is another in a long line of initiatives in which teachers unions put their members’ interests before those of their students. We expect special interest groups to lobby the public to promote their financial interests. That is an expected part of the democratic process. This does not make them evil; it simply makes them human. But this particular special interest group has managed better than any other to cloak its intentions, pretending it is interested only in the welfare of children. It is time for us to acknowledge whom teachers unions really care about: themselves.
Massachusetts charter schools, and in particular, charter school in Boston, are some of the best public schools in the country. They serve disproportionately high population of low income and minority students, and have proven that they can produce huge learning gains. 34,000 parents and students made the decisions that charters were the right choice for them. Who are we to deny those students a chance at a better education and a better life? Vote yes on Question 2.
Reed Sawyers ’18 is an economics major from Mill Valley, Calif. He lives in Tyler Annex.