The Massachusetts Authorization of Additional Charter Schools and Charter School Expansion Initiative, also known as Question 2, is on the November 8, 2016, ballot in Massachusetts.
A yes vote is a vote in favor of authorizing the approval of up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions in existing charter schools by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education per year.
A no vote is a vote against authorizing the approval of up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions in existing charter schools.
The proposed law would take effect on January 1, 2017.
According the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Charter schools are independent public schools designed to encourage innovative educational practices. They are funded by tuition charges assessed against the school districts where the students reside. The state provides partial reimbursement to the sending districts for the tuition costs incurred.
Authorized by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Education Reform Act of 1993, charter schools operate under five year charters granted by the Commonwealth’s Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. Charter schools are usually proposed by teachers, school leaders, parents, non-profit organizations, or other members of the community.
Once the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has awarded a charter on the basis of a successful application, the new charter school has the freedom to organize around the core mission, curriculum, theme, or teaching method described in the application. It is allowed to control its own budget and hire (and fire) teachers and staff. In return for this freedom, a charter school must demonstrate good results within five years or risk losing its charter.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is obligated to conduct an ongoing review of charter schools and, by the fifth year of a school’s operation, decide whether its charter should be renewed. Specifically, the renewal of a public school charter is based on its academic program success, organizational viability and faithfulness to the terms of the charter.
The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education has approved a total of 108 charters since 1994. Of those, 28 have closed or were never opened. There are currently 76 operating charter schools in the state, and two that have been approved but not yet opened.
According to the website Ballotpedia, which tracks local, state and national elections, the question on the ballot originated from a Citizen petition called “An Act to Allow Fair Access to Public Charter Schools.”
Supporters collected 70,716 signatures of 64,750 required by December 2, 2015, that were submitted to the secretary of state’s office, and certified in mid-December.
To qualify for the November 2016 election ballot, petitioners needed to collect another 10,792 signatures and submit them to local clerks by about June 22, 2016. Supporters submitted 30,200 signatures, which were approved by William Galvin, secretary of the commonwealth, on July 6, 2016, certifying the measure for the November 8, 2016, ballot.
A similar proposal was also put before the Legislature in a bill filed on October 8, 2015 by Gov. Charlie Baker called “An Act to Improve and Expand Educational Opportunity.” May 3, 2016, was the deadline for the legislature to take action on the initiative, which it did not pass.
Supporters of Question 2 point to the 44,250 students currently on public charter school waiting lists, proving that the current number of charter schools is unable to keep up with parental demand for school choices.
In the filing letter for his bill, Baker said: “this legislation increases educational options for parents and their children in the state’s most underserved communities while creating new opportunities for charter schools to partner with districts in turning around our lowest performing schools.
“Authorized since 1993 in Massachusetts, charter schools have demonstrated successfully their capacity to stimulate innovation in learning and deliver high-quality educational opportunities to the Commonwealth’s children. Under the existing framework, the current number of charter schools is unable to keep up with parental demand for school choices.”
Opponents of Question 2 argue that it takes away funding from public schools.
On its website, Save Our Public Schools states that in 2016, charter schools will siphon off more than $400 million in funds that would otherwise stay in public schools. If Question 2 passes, that amount can increase by $100 million a year, according to the group.
Kathryn Martin, Chair of the Westfield Democratic City Committee made that same argument in a letter to The Westfield News in June, stating that “We need to fully fund our public school system before we consider spending more money on charter schools.”
In the Massachusetts Rural School Coalition proposal to increase aid to rural schools suffering from population decline, flat state aid, and rising costs, the introduction and expansion of charter schools are seen as competing for a dwindling school population, and draining resources.
According to Ballotpedia, statewide polls are currently running in favor of Question 2, at an average of 56.25% in favor of the question, to 25.75% opposed, and 17.75% undecided.
Westfield Public Schools Business Manager Ron Rix said that in 2016, 17 Westfield students attended charter and online schools. The three schools included the Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter School in South Hadley, the Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School in Easthampton, and the Massachusetts Virtual Academy, which is an online school.
The cost of lost state aid for these 17 students was about $ 170,000 or about $10,000 per student, according to Rix. There currently are no charter schools located in Westfield.