Charter foes try a new tack
Opponents of charters schools, who have long complained about funds being lost to district schools when students enroll in charters, have opened a new front in the war they’ve been waging ever since charters were first authorized in the state’s landmark 1993 education reform. The new objection: the state-based approval process for granting charters. Opponents rallied at a State House hearing last month on behalf of bills that would require any new charter school to obtain local approval, either from a district school committee or via voter referendum.
State House News Service reported that Brookline state Rep. Frank Smizik, the sponsor of one of the bills, said at the Oct. 18 hearing, “we must be sure decisions affecting local education and our school system stem from a democratic process.” It sounds like a worthy enough sentiment, but the move is, in fact, nothing more than a effort to stop the growth of charter schools dead in its tracks. School committees are hardly likely to embrace the addition of new charters, public schools that operate independently of local districts and compete with them for funding and students. What’s more, the superior student achievement outcomes of many urban charter schools, compared with local district schools, can raise unwelcome questions about practices and policies of district systems that may be holding students back.
A Lowell Sun editorial yesterday didn’t exactly mince words in blistering the latest salvo against against charters. “Why is it that liberal Democrats, some of whom send their children to private schools, are opposed to giving school choice to other parents who aren’t as well off economically?” said the editorial. “The hypocrisy has come to a head in the state Legislature, where once again a group of elitist Democrats are carrying the special-interest water pails for teachers’ unions and their allies, local school committees and superintendents who fear competition from the state’s growing number of successful public charter schools.
Smizik, a Brookline Democrat whose wife is a lobbyist for the state’s largest teachers union, the Massachusetts Teachers Association, would seem to be one of the pols the paper has in mind.
Notwithstanding the political shenanigans the Patrick administration introduced into the recent approval of a Gloucester charter school, the state-based charter approval law has, on the whole, been praised nationally as one of the more rigorous and thorough systems used in any state. The performance of Massachusetts charters, especially those in urban areas, which outpace their district-school counterparts by wide margins, has been the positive yield.
The pertinent question for the “cocktail liberals” the Sun criticizes may be this: If they lived in places like Lawrence and Springfield, would they welcome charter school options for their children or would they be willing to be settle for whatever school the district offers in these systems where abysmal school performance, sadly, has been less the exception than the rule?
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Public housing tenants in Chelsea say they were sometimes told there were no funds available to make needed repairs in their apartments, even as the housing authority’s director was taking home $360,000 a year.
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