By Julie Johnson
Question 2 would dramatically lift the cap on charter schools, handing over our public schools and our public dollars to unaccountable private entities. There is so much that is wrong with this ballot question and the future consequences for our public schools in Massachusetts–and across the country–are so potentially devastating, that it is difficult to know where to begin.
So let me begin by saying that any progressive and certainly any democratic socialist should not only be Voting No on Question 2 but should be working as hard as s/he can to stop this blatant power grab by corporations and wealthy individuals. It is a threat to democracy and to the very concept of what it means to be “public”–that is, people working together for the common good within public institutions, that have the support of the public and are governed by the people.
Charter schools now cost Massachusetts public schools over $450 million annually and Question 2 could cost our public schools nearly $1 billion within five years. Over time, Question 2 has the potential to turn most of our public schools across the state into privately-run entities, funded primarily by local tax dollars with no local accountability. No community in the state is immune to the expansion of charter schools. Charters are authorized by the state and neither local officials nor the local community have any meaningful role in the approval or oversight process.
I highly recommend a recent report, Who Controls Our Schools? The Privatization of American Public Education, by Haven, Hines, Rosenfeld and Salett, that explains and details the growth of charter schools and who is now behind them: “The charter movement should be seen less as a one-dimensional desire for academic excellence and more as a radical, ideological, and political drive for power and control over what has been one of our basic institutions of local authority.”
Here’s a link: https://s3.amazonaws.com/s3.alternet.org/images/who_controls_our_schools_pdf_ebook_1_1.pdf,
For those who have read Jane Mayer’s book, Dark Money, you will understand that these same people–very wealthy individuals and corporations, primarily politically conservative, but not always so–who have the money and the power to change public opinion and public policy, to further their own agenda. What I find particularly offensive is the billions of dollars that are lost to our public institutions through “charitable” giving, where control of those lost tax dollars go to what corporations believe are important and worthy of support, such as charter schools, while our public schools are starved of the resources they need to educate our poorest students.
I have been told that it is “not true” that Q2 could lead to privatization in Massachusetts, that charters are “public schools” and there is no “privatization” because there is state oversight and charters can’t be run by for-profit corporations, that we have funded our schools adequately and that charter schools are “needed” because of our “failing” schools, that charter schools work better because they don’t have all those “union rules” or those “political” and “unenlightened” school committees, that the loss of funding does not hurt our regular public schools, that charter schools don’t discriminate and that they do take all students and do better with them than our regular schools.
And they are wrong on all counts.
All you need to do is take a look at the websites of the two campaigns, as well as their campaign finance reports, to see the different interests, money and support behind the two sides of this question. It could not be clearer: opponents of Question 2 are the two Massachusetts’ teachers’ unions (MTA, part of the NEA, and the AFT, part of the AFL-CIO), Jobs with Justice, the NAACP, over 200 local school committees, and numerous other local or statewide community organizations and unions, with money coming primarily from public school teachers through their union, mostly in Massachusetts, but some from the NEA (public school teachers across the country). The organizations in support of Question 2 are all corporate or corporate-related, including the real estate industry, or are charter school advocacy organizations and other corporate education reform entities, and these organizations are funded primarily by dark money (i.e., donations whose sources do not have to be publicly disclosed; in this case, when disclosed they are found to be made by conservative billionaires and their corporate foundations.)
A number of years ago, I spoke at a charter school forum opposite Jim Peyser, Baker’s current Secretary of Education but at that time, he was at the Pioneer Institute, as I recall. I argued that one of the reasons for charters in Massachusetts was to allow charters to develop innovations that would then be shared with the public schools to help them improve. I remember the debate in the Democratically controlled Legislature, and I argued that charter schools were not fulfilling their promise, because most did not have innovative educational practices and that any such innovations that were coming out of charter schools were not replicable in our public schools. I was surprised by Peyser’s countering argument. Essentially, he said that he didn’t believe there were any educational innovations that a charter school could develop that were not already being done somewhere by a public school. No, he said, the real innovation of charter schools is their “governance”, that they are not controlled by “political” bodies (i.e., elected school committees).
I am acutely aware that our K-12 public education system is one the only areas that has not yet been privatized or taken out of the public domain, and I am therefore always aware of the serious threats to public education in this country and in Massachusetts.
Question 2 is a real threat. Please join me in voting No on Question 2.
Julie Johnson is a former Chair of Boston DSA, presiding during the merger of DSOC (the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee) and NAM (the New American Movement). She has worked as a lobbyist for the Massachusetts Teachers Association since 1989.