Why Question 2 grassroots opposition is growing

Measure allows unchecked charter school growth with no local control

I HAVE SPENT much of my adult life supporting local political movements and promoting direct voter contact as the best way to win elections. I like to think I know what real grassroots campaigns look like. The nearly unanimous vote recently by the Massachusetts Democratic State Committee to align itself with the national Democratic Party platform developed by supporters of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders — which says charter schools “should not replace or destabilize traditional public schools” — was no surprise to me or anyone who is paying attention to the important issues in this November’s election.

Grassroots opposition to Question 2, which would greatly increase the number of charter schools in Massachusetts, has been building for months. So far, more than 80 elected school committees and city councils have voted to oppose Question 2. So have the Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association and the Massachusetts Municipal Association. Dozens of mayors and other local officials are against passage of Question 2. Even Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a longtime charter supporter who formerly sat on the board of a charter school, opposes Question 2 because of the irreversible harm it would do to the Boston Public Schools.  More and more charter supporters recognize that Question 2 is the wrong solution because it would allow indefinite expansion each year of charter schools, which local government has no say in approving.

When you consider that Massachusetts students rank Number 1 in the US on measurements of student achievement and 96 percent of Massachusetts public school students attend local district public schools, you’ll understand that the grassroots campaign against Question 2 is likely to grow exponentially. As the school year starts during the coming days, families will be faced with another year of fighting budget cuts, fundraising for classroom supplies, and being asked to pay extra fees for basic elements of their children’s education. Neighbor-to-neighbor conversations will highlight why Question 2 is a mistake for families and students.

When a parent hears from a friend how much their community or a neighboring district already loses to the state charter funding formula and then how Question 2 allows unlimited expansion with no local control, the weakness of Question 2’s approach will become clear.  Parents, educators, local taxpayers, and the local elected leaders who must balance school budgets each year are organizing against a state mandate that would allow state bureaucrats to approve 12 new charters schools a year, every year, forever, with no limit on how much money a single district could lose. This would nearly triple the number of charter schools in just 10 years – each year taking more and more resources from local district schools that are educating the highest performing students in the nation.

Last year, 243 local school districts lost a total of $412 million in taxpayer money to charter schools. Local schools face cuts year after year, limiting their ability to provide science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education; preserve programs such as music, art, and athletics; or expand early childhood education, which is critical to students’ success later in life.

There are some who think every charter school is bad and others who think charters are the answer to every situation. Most people see the question as less absolute and worry that a policy that allows unlimited expansion of charters without answering the questions about funding and without giving local parents and leaders a voice in the control of education dollars in their community is a mistake. Count me among them. That’s why I’ll be voting no on Question 2 and talking to my friends and neighbors to tell them why.

Meet the Author

John Walsh served as Deval Patrick’s campaign manager during his 2006 Massachusetts gubernatorial race, chairman of the Massachusetts Democratic Party from 2007-2013, and executive director of Deval Patrick’s Together PAC.