It’s time for another McDuffy case
State needs to address inequality in education
WHEN THE PUBLIC SEEKS to improve the educational outcomes for students, we tend to misdirect our frustration towards teachers unions, low-performing district schools, and/or the existence of charter schools. The problem, however, is much larger than any one school. In reality, cash-strapped urban districts and Gateway Cities across Massachusetts are not getting their fair share of dollars in the form of local aid. We must ensure that all teachers at all schools have the resources they need to educate all learners.
When we were children in the Boston Public Schools, we lived through the disadvantages of under-resourced schools. We hoped things would improve with the passage of the Education Reform Act of 1993, but now our own children navigate the same system we did. It’s unforgivable that they still face limited options and that their schools are forced to decide between a gym teacher or an arts program.
Like many other parents living in Boston, we value the promise of public education. We want our children to grow up with and to learn from children of other ethnicities, religions, and backgrounds. We know that education works best when we all work together. Leaving an urban district like Boston for a suburban or private school does not fix the root cause of the problem, namely unequal funding.
Schools in low-income communities face many challenges: from the difficulty of recruiting and keeping the most skilled teachers to the disruption caused by emotional fallout from violence in our neighborhood. Our schools often offer fewer high-level classes such as advanced placement courses, and parents have fewer resources to raise extra money that can provide enhanced arts programs and facilities.
The reliance on local property taxes to fund education continues to widen the educational divide between the haves and have nots. If Massachusetts truly wants to lead in education, then we need to fulfill our promise of providing every child a well-rounded and high-quality education that prepares them for college or career.
It is time to redirect our efforts to changing policies that hurt low-income communities. Reliance on local property taxes for a superior education is a ludicrous notion when one considers the rising homeless student populations in the urban districts. It is time to update the decades old Chapter 70 formula to take such disparities into account.
On behalf of educators, parents, and students, we believe we need a class action lawsuit against the state to finally level the playing field so all of our children can thrive. The McDuffy case, begun initially in 1978 to combat inequality in public education in Massachusetts, is the lawsuit that eventually gave us the Education Reform Act of 1993. Both the MCAS and charter schools were born from the 1993 legislation.In the subsequent years, Boston parents and civic institutions have fought among themselves over the role of both accountability measurements and the merits of charter schools. We believe all of Boston’s families would be better served by uniting for the purpose of increasing state aid so our students get the same education as suburban students. After all, if the Commonwealth is going to judge all schools by the same standard, it is incumbent upon the Commonwealth to ensure that all schools have the resources to offer the same programs and services.
Julia Mejia is the founder and CEO of the Collaborative Parent Leadership Action Network (CPLAN) and Michael J. Maguire is a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts. They were on opposite sides in the Question 2 charter school debate, but have since found common ground on many issues. The ideas expressed here are their own.