Thoughts on Ballot Question 2 – Why I’m voting “No”
October 04, 2016
In one of my earliest years on the Somerville Board of Aldermen, I received a budget book with an astonishing graph in it. It showed, year-by-year, the amount of in charter school sending tuition paid by the City of Somerville. It rose steeply, year after year; a shockingly high cost, over which the City of Somerville had no control.
In my first year as a state legislator, I attended the city’s Inaugural Ceremony. In his speech, our Mayor said that state aid to the city had fallen, and that this decline was unacceptable. The next day, I checked the numbers, and called the mayor to say that, in fact, state aid had risen. His response was that the increase had been more than wiped out by the increase in charter school sending tuition – and I couldn’t argue with his math.
You may have heard the Mass Taxpayers Foundation’s slick conclusion, parroted by the Boston Globe, that charter school funding doesn’t subtract funding from local district schools. Yes, there is an initial infusion of state reimbursement, to cushion the fiscal shock – but even that account is not usually fully funded in the state budget. That reimbursement is limited in time, and the impulse of most municipalities is to avoid cutting district schools – so cuts have to come from somewhere else in the budget.
Some argue that charter school tuition represents a savings of money not spent on educating charter school students in Somerville schools. Yet the fixed costs of our school system don’t go down unless we close schools – which doesn’t exactly optimize “school choice.” Part of the original premise of charter schools was that they would be ‘laboratories of experimentation,’ which would then share useful innovations to district schools, but I’ve never heard of this happening; instead, charter schools compete with district schools for education dollars.
Also, have you asked yourself why Wall Street works so hard to promote charter schools? There are so many ways for private ventures to make money from the steady revenue of education funding. Even apart from the for-profit charter schools allowed under our laws, private companies can make lucrative deals to rent facilities to charter schools, and to provide them with such goods and services as management, accounting and payroll, insurance, curricula and materials, meals, maintenance, HR – whatever is needed to run schools.
As with other privatization efforts, the public sector loses control of its institutions and services, which move to corporate, non-accountable hands. Meanwhile, the end-users –our students and their families – can find themselves in the disempowered role of ‘customers.’ The fact that some may be happy customers doesn’t make the fundamental arrangement less disturbing.
If you’d like a “No on 2” yard sign, send me an email requesting one.