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.

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And the fight goes on

A Boston Herald opinion piece recently compared the fight for charter schools to same sex marriage. I do believe that there are some parallels to the two political movements even if the gentleman came to completely the wrong conclusions.

Ten years ago, I couldn’t sleep. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court had declared in Goodridge vs. the Department of Health, that gays and lesbians had a right to marry under the Massachusetts state constitution.

That decision garnered quite a bit of interest to say the least. The legal maneuvers are somewhat complicated to explain. But essentially, the Christian right mobilized and money came pouring in from out of state to try and convince Massachusetts to change its state constitution. At the time, I believed that this would head to a statewide vote.

I couldn’t believe that voters were going to be able to vote on something that so intimately affected my life. It had a happy ending. The vote was stopped in the legislature but I’ll never forget the experience.

Now, a decade later, I’m again pacing the halls at night. I love my children’s BPS schools. But a statewide vote on charter schools threatens their school communities. Statewide, voters will decide on whether or not to allow 12 new charter schools a year, every year. If Question 2 passes, up to 45 BPS schools could close in the next 12 years.

The question is being funded by wealthy, out of state interests, who want access to our education dollars. This is exactly what fighting for gay marriage felt like. The campaign for Yes on 2 is trying to convince voters to vote yes. And that yes will hurt my family. All of our families.

I hope Massachusetts will again reject out of state interests, just like they did before, and vote No on 2.

In the meantime, please watch this video that the unstoppable Krissy Cabbage made about the fight to save our public schools.