Mass., Ga. reject school privatization efforts

Ballot Question 2 across the state of Massachusetts last Tuesday asked voters if the state could expand its charter school footprint, and voters overwhelmingly rejected the question, with 68 percent voting against the measure and 32 percent voting for it.


Grassroots opposition was building for months. (Save Our Public Schools / Creative Commons)

It was perhaps one of the highest-profile education-related fights anywhere in the country this election. Governor Charlie Baker, a Republican whose campaign emphasized an expansion of charter schools for the state, said he would try to find other ways to close the achievement gap between students in urban and suburban schools.

“We need to pursue other alternatives,” the Associated Press quoted him as saying.

By ‘other alternatives,’ I believe he was referring to different models for schools, such as innovation schools that are partially autonomous and have some flexibility when it comes to experimenting with different methodologies.

Opposition to the question, which would have raised the cap on the number of charter schools allowed to operate in the state, by 12 every year, came largely from the same communities where charter schools are common, an analysis by MassLive found.

The opposition is a mirror image of the views expressed by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, or NAACP, earlier this year. Saying charter schools weren’t good for low-income families of color, the group voted at its annual conference in September to call for a moratorium on new charter schools, Education Week reported.

But other African-American advocates opposed the NAACP’s resolution.

“The fact that the NAACP wants a national moratorium on charter schools, many of which offer a high-quality education to low-income and working-class Black children, is inexplicable,” Ed Week quoted Jacqueline Cooper, the president of the Black Alliance for Educational Options, as saying. “The resolution is ill-conceived and based on lies and distortions about the work of charter schools.”

On the other hand, Black Lives Matter activists and an entire coalition of civil rights and advocacy groups released an education agenda calling for, in addition to a few other education initiatives, a ban on charters.

The two sides of the resolution notwithstanding, only a few affluent communities supported Question 2 in Massachusetts, while almost all of the question’s opponents lived in cities and towns whose public schools are losing money to charter schools.

“Easthampton topped all Massachusetts municipalities in the strength of its opposition—76.2 percent voted No,” the MassLive analysis showed. “And that city will lose $940,000 to its charter school, Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School, in fiscal 2016.”

The site quoted Easthampton Mayor Karen Cadieux as saying, “It comes right off the top. … If you’re saying it doesn’t cost us anything, then you need to explain why I’m $940,000 short,” she said, referring to the way charter operators take money away from the public schools that might still be fixed.

A good analogy is a computer. If a new computer costs $800 and the cost of a WiFi adapter comes to $50, it’s better to buy the adapter to fix a broken WiFi card—unless you absolutely, positively can’t stand having a WiFi adapter outside the computer. But charter advocates like Mr Baker continue to force taxpayers to buy whole new computers when they just need a WiFi plug-in. Instead of fixing public schools that in many cases could use a few new parts—walls, books, technology, career programs, and so on—they want us to buy a whole new school.

Voters are getting wise to the way this works and to the waste of money charter schools have become. Georgia rejected a similar measure by about the same margin, despite the strong Republican leaning of that state, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Democrats and Republicans in the state actually joined forces to defeat Amendment 1, the governor’s plan to change the state constitution to allow him to take over schools with low-test scores and turn them into charters. Voters resoundingly defeated this ALEC-inspired initiative to undermine the democratic control of local schools.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.