A Trick and a Treat

If you are a Massachusetts voter, you  may have received a mailer last week about Question 2. This mailer proclaimed that voters should secure Obama’s legacy by Voting Yes on 2.

And there was a very large picture of the president on the front.

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Now, I knew Potus had not endorsed Question 2. And I was so concerned about this that I called the Secretary of State’s Office to complain. They were so concerned that they’ve completely ignored my phone call.

And of course, a few days later, it comes out that the White House has no connection to this organization and has not endorsed Question 2.

So the organization behind this mailer had some explaining to do.

You never said Potus endorsed? No you just sent out a flyer with his face and a command to keep his legacy by voting yes on 2.

So that’s a bit of a trick.

But here’s a treat. Guess who endorsed No on 2 for real? Bernie Sanders!!!
(aka the man who was ROBBED of the presidency!)

Check it out!

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Vote No on 2 because magical thinking is dangerous.

 

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Photo credit: Malikka Williams

Magical thinking in education policy is dangerous and generally ends up hurting the most vulnerable. The Yes on 2 campaign is promising everything to everyone but without wrestling with the very real issue of who is going to pay for these 12 new schools a year.

 

Education spending in Massachusetts is already severely underfunded. The legislature set up a commission to study how the state is meeting its legal obligations to fund education. It was called the Foundation Budget Review Commission, and it found that Massachusetts was underfunding public schools by a billion dollars a year. That is the state of education funding today.

The FBRC found that the two areas where the state is underfunding education is in special education and health care costs.

If you have not noticed that your schools are underfunded, it’s because your city or town has chosen to divert funding from other departments to make up the difference.

In fact, the legislature estimates that if Question 2 passes, it will cost 1 billion a year within 10 years.[1] This will be an additional bill to the already underfunded public school sector. It should also be noted that Governor Baker just announced that he must reopen the Massachusetts budget to deal with a $295 million spending deficit. This has not dampened his enthusiasm for opening up 12 more schools a year, every year, with no funding source identified.

I and other parent education activists have gone to state legislators three years in a row asking for more money. And every year we are told the same thing: The state has a lot of funding priorities. And how can you argue with that? What am I asking them to cut in order for them to fully fund education?

So it has been left to cities and towns to figure this out. This is why many pro charter politicians are No on 2. Because this question will make this reality worse. Because if you exacerbate this situation there won’t be many easy answers. You can raise taxes but that is politically dangerous or you can make cuts.

In fact, Boston commissioned McKinsey consulting to draft a report on controlling BPS school costs. It should come as no surprise that half of the report is dedicated to cutting special education spending.

This is what I mean by saying that magical thinking is dangerous. All children deserve a quality education. There is a limited amount of tax dollars available to achieve this purpose so we must very careful and prudent with our education policy.

By pretending that there are no costs associated with Question 2, the proponents of this measure endanger the financial solvency of school districts and their ability to provide an education to all children.

[1] The state reimburses public schools for a six year period for the loss of a students. The first year is 100%, then 25% for five years. The ballot initiative is 12 charter schools or 1% of the number of students in Massachusetts, 1% of students = 9,500 x average per pupil of $11,054 = $105M per year. Conservatively by this rationale is would take about 10 years to get to $1 billion in new spending for new charters.

 

Families with kids with special needs should be concerned about Question 2

This post gets to the heart of why I am against charter school expansion. It’s a little long and kind of wonkish. It’s not as dramatic as some of my other posts. But I really feel the need to explain in as sober a way as possible why I feel that voters should reject Question 2.

When discussing Question 2, we do not hear a lot from families with special needs even though I believe they could be severely impacted by the passage of this question. I do not believe that their needs have been taken into account as we weigh this issue.

My essential concern is that we are bifurcating our school system into two systems. One system is well funded and the other struggles to provide the same level of services every year. The struggling system is the one that is responsible for educating most of the children, and the children with the most serious needs.

Now I hear your unasked question. Don’t charters serve the same number of kids with IEPs?

Here is where it is important to parse the data.

Using flat percentages across the state, yes, they have roughly the same percentages of kids with IEPs. But you have to look at the data.

In urban schools, we are serving SPED students at a higher rate:

Boston: 25% more kids with IEPs are served in BPS than charters.

In Lawrence and Salem, 75% more kids with IEPS are in the district schools than in charters, and in Worcester and Chicopee, 50% more kids on IEPs are in the district schools.

Most children on IEPs in charters have either a communications impairment (meaning they need speech) or a specific learning disability (meaning they have an issue with a specific subject like math).

Traditional public schools are serving the kids with the highest needs. We have nearly twice the number of autistic kids, kids that are developmentally delayed, and have intellectual disabilities.

Traditional schools serve nearly all of the blind, deaf, and kids with neurological impairments or physical impairments.

Also, charter schools have all of their IEP kids in either inclusion or partial inclusion settings.

Traditional schools have sub separate programs that serve 10% of our IEP kids. These are the kids who are not able to be integrated at all into a regular classroom.

So yes, flat percentages, they serve an equal amount. But traditional public schools serve the kids with the highest needs.

But these are the most important statistics. You can find them here:

https://www.masc.org/images/news/2015/20151013_MASC_Charter-Schools_Who-Is-Being-Served_opt.pdf

I think this is something the public needs to understand. Charter schools work for some kids but certainly not all kids. They work well for kids who have a supportive family environment and they work well for kids who are able to modify their behavior to meet the charters’ strict discipline codes.

But there are some children who will never ever be able to function in a charter environment. So what we really are doing is resegregating our schools. Maybe it isn’t along racial lines but we are sorting our children into a system of winners and losers.

And I hear your next question. But isn’t charter school admittance by lottery? Couldn’t the special needs kids just sign up?

Sure, you can enter your child. But if their disability interferes with their ability to conform, they won’t be able to stay.

I’ve embedded a video from a father who tells his story of his kids experience in a Massachusetts charter school. I have posted the video with this father’s permission.

It is just one story but it was one that I heard again and again when I was working as a parent advocate. It was one of the reasons why I became so alarmed at the growth of the charter school sector.

The children who are in charters do not have more potential than the children in regular public schools. Their education shouldn’t be favored just because a parent entered their name into a lottery.

It is wrong of us to decide that we only need to educate some of the children. We as a society have a responsibility to educate all of the children. We should not be siphoning off funds and setting up a small portion of our kids on a path to success while neglecting the rest. All children have a right to an education. And we cannot abdicate that duty.