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Arlington School Enrollment Parent Group Opposes Question 2

posted Oct 23, 2016, 9:49 PM by Greg Dennis   [ updated Mar 20, 2017, 11:29 AM ]
The Arlington School Enrollment Parent Group has voted unanimously to oppose Question 2 and keep the existing cap on charter schools. Having advocated on behalf of our public schools for the past 10 months, we felt obligated to study Question 2 in depth. We believe that lifting the cap as the question specifies would hinder Arlington's ability to meet the challenges posed by our growing student population and would be counterproductive toward achieving equitable education for all, both in Arlington and across the Commonwealth.

To dispel a common misconception, a vote against Question 2 would not negatively affect existing charter schools or stop new charter school growth — far from it. The state currently caps the number of charter schools at 120, but with only 80 charter schools in operation statewide, there is still ample room to grow. Additionally, as of 2010, school districts are allowed to create their own "innovation schools", also known as Horace Mann charter schools, outside the 120 cap, and 57 such innovation schools have been established since.

The primary problem with Massachusetts charter schools today isn't the schools themselves, but a funding formula that disadvantages traditional public schools. When a student decides to attend a charter, the district is obligated to pay charter tuition equal to its per-pupil education cost. But while the money always follows the student to a charter school, the costs too often stay behind. Last year, ten students from Arlington chose to attend charter schools, requiring our district to pay $122,380 in charter school tuition. However, our fixed costs remained the same, as we still need to keep the lights on, and we can't eliminate a fraction of a teacher. Current law wisely caps the amount of money an individual district must pay in charter school tuition, but Question 2 would eliminate that very safeguard.

Furthermore, the per-pupil tuition formula ignores any differences in the student population between a charter and a district that pays it tuition. The reality is that charters, with few exceptions, educate fewer students with disabilities, English language learners, and low-income students than the districts they draw from. So while the district and the charter are funded with the same per-pupil amount, the students who remain in the district will cost more on average to educate. The state does partially reimburse tuition payments, but at an ever-shrinking percentage of a district's total tuition payments; and of those already partial reimbursements, only 63% were actually funded and paid last year by the state — a $47 million shortfall.

For these reasons and others, several known charter school supporters, including Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Senator Elizabeth Warren, have announced their opposition to Question 2. Walsh said it would "wreak havoc" on Boston municipal finances. Warren noted that "Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind." They join 111 civic organizations and 168 School Committees, including the Arlington School Committee, in opposing Question 2.

Clearly, this is a divisive ballot question. The School Enrollment Parent Group firmly believes we need to come together and focus on the real solution to high quality, equitable education for all: better funding of public education at the state level. Lifting the cap on charter schools would only move us further from that goal. On November 8, join us in voting "No" on Question 2.