Lifting the cap on charter schools would harm our schools, families

In November there will likely be a referendum question on the state ballot proposing to lift the cap on charter schools. I believe that approval of this referendum will bleed our public schools dry and can only hurt the great majority of families in Dorchester.

I offer the following thoughts about this referendum as an educator whose 46-year career includes teaching in parochial and public schools, special needs programs, in middle and high schools, as a principal of public schools (including in the Boston public schools), and as a charter school Head of School.

For every student going to a charter school, Boston’s public schools lose funding. Even without the cap being lifted, Boston’s schools are projected to lose $119 million in the current school year. With the cap lifted, the vast majority of the extra 9,500 charter school students to be eligible are likely to come from Boston, costing our school system even more money.

Even worse, charter schools will receive funding on a formula that assumes they are providing education to all students, including the neediest. They will receive funding for special needs students, for ELL students (English Language Learners), and children with disruptive behaviors. In fact, the charter schools are notorious for not embracing those types of students. They take the funding for the neediest, but leave the Boston public schools to do the work – with less funding. As a result, the public schools are forced to cut music, art, counseling, and even services to autistic children. Expanding this two-track system of separate and unequal schools, where students with the most challenges remain in local district schools with fewer and fewer resources, is not consistent with our Massachusetts values.

The state is supposed to provide temporary funding to buffer the transition to lower funding at the city’s public schools. But that funding has never been compete, falling short by $12 million in 2014-15 and $16 million in 2015-16, with the shortfall growing consistently. A recent report by a school budget review commission found that Massachusetts is consistently underfunding public education by at least $1 billion a year. This underfunding has contributed to the BPS cutting STEM, science and technology teachers at the O’Bryant School of Math and Science and the leadership program at the Boston Leadership Academy!

This referendum question presents us with choices:

• Will we prefer spending more and more money on private businesses that are unaccountable to us and who abandon the neediest children? Or will we use that money to improve our own schools that are open to all students and refuse none?

• Do we want more and more of our money to fund schools that have no requirements for teacher or administrative certification? Or do we want to pay for our public schools where the teachers’ and administrators’ certifications must be reviewed by the state every five years?

• Should we invest in our public school system, which received the Broad Prize in Urban Education in 2006 that is “awarded each year to honor urban school districts that demonstrate the greatest overall performance and improvement in student achievement while reducing achievement gaps among low-income students and students of color?”

I am not on principle opposed to charter schools. I am proud of the five years I led a charter school in Boston because of the service we provided to our students. But I will vote “No” in November on this referendum to lift the cap on charter schools, thereby adding 9,500

seats every year without end. It makes no financial sense for Boston. It asks too much and hurts our families.