Boston Public Schools Budget Cuts: The Legislature Needs To Hear Our Voices


The Massachusetts State Legislature is still coming to terms on the Senate Bill 235/House Bill 425 “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap.”  There’s a lot of pressure on our elected leaders to lift the cap on charter schools without first getting a better understanding of how funding charter schools in the state negatively affects the funding and resources for district public schools.  Whether or not you think charter schools are a good option for educating children, I think we can all agree that all schools should be fully funded to allow for equitable education for all students.

 

If you live in Massachusetts, here are a few things you can do to help:

  • Write your elected leaders. Contact information available from this website: http://www.wheredoivotema.com/ The message I sent today to the chairs of the education committee Sonia Chang-Diaz (Sonia.Chang-Diaz@state.ma.us) and Alice Peisch (Alice.Peisch@mahouse.gov) as well as my representative Liz Malia are below (Chang-Diaz is also the senator for my district).  Feel free to crib for your own message.
  • Sign and share information about the QUEST petition with your friends and family. The petition can be found at http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/adequate-funding-for?mailing_id=21010&source=s.icn.em.cr&r_by=8757554. A Spanish translation can be found at http://tinyurl.com/mk6opsv.
  • Join other parents and students at the State House in Boston at 4:30 today, Tuesday, March 25th. This protest is organized by Boston Public School parents from many schools who see the effects of charters on our schools and our children on a daily basis. (See: Facebook page for event)

 

I am a citizen of Boston residing in the Forest Hills/Woodbourne area of Jamaica Plain.  My 6-year-old son Peter is a Kindergarten 2 scholar at the nearby BTU Pilot School, a neighborhood public school with excellent, hard-working teachers and staff and the heart of our neighborhood community.  In recent months, we’ve learned that our school is facing severe budget cuts that will cause the school to lose teaching staff, social workers, Playworks, a school supplies budget, field trips, and other resources vital to equitable education.  Our school is not alone as most schools in Boston are facing their own budget cuts, and other school systems in the Commonwealth are facing similar challenges with dwindling resources.
 
I believe the Massachusetts Legislature can help address the inadequacies and inequality in funding and resources for public schools in Senate Bill 235/House Bill 425 “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap.”  One issue is charter schools that are receiving a larger piece of the pie in state funding, while the state has neglected to reimburse public schools (see this chart created by a Boston Public School parent: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/BjRzkXVCcAE1WEK.jpg:large).  I’m not opposed to charter schools as an educational option for some children, but it seems grossly unfair that one type of school is fully funded while another has to beg for scraps.  The legislature should make it a priority to fully fund all public schools.  
 
With that in mind, please consider the following steps:  
 
• Remove charter school language entirely from Senate Bill 235/House Bill 425 “An Act to Further Narrow the Achievement Gap;”
• Prior to any consideration of raising the charter school cap read the soon-to-be released audit from the State Auditor’s Office regarding charter school finances and practices;
• Work with constituents to draft a more comprehensive proposal regarding the charter school cap. This proposal must address the inequalities already identified, include clear and quantifiable accountability measures that are put into place prior to such legislation being proposed, and explore more equitable or separate funding methods that do not bankrupt our public schools.
 
I understand that you are receiving a lot of attention from lobbyists of the charter school cause.  These groups are backed by billionaires and corporations who have their own ends in supporting the charter school cap that may not be in the best interests of Massachusetts’ children.  Please listen also to the voices of your constituents – the parents, students, and educators of some of the best public schools in the nation and do the right thing for all the state’s children.

 

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Some coverage of the rally at the State House last night:

    http://www.universalhub.com/2014/bps-budget-cuts-protest

    http://www.demotix.com/news/4297978/local-advocates-rally-demand-funding-public-education-boston

    I’m glad I attended. My introversion tends to make me an armchair activist at best, so it is good to step out of my comfort zone.

    More importantly, it was inspiring to see and hear the student activists (the ones with the death certificate in the photo). They really set the tone for the whole rally and demonstrated a lot of wisdom and creativity.

    Reply

  2. Response from my state Senator Sonia Chang-Diaz:

    Re: Charter School Legislation

    Dear Liam:

    I’m writing in response to your input on the issue of charter schools. I have heard from constituents and residents from across the state on all sides of this issue, and I have taken your activism to heart. I know there are also many who haven’t weighed in but have a stake in this debate, and I’ve had their concerns on my mind as well. While I have been dismayed by some of the disinformation circulated over the last several weeks, I am heartened by the level of civic engagement from residents throughout the state. I’m glad to have the opportunity to directly share with you my position on the issues that have been before us. Thank you for making your voice heard and for allowing me the chance to share my voice with you.

    Let me say clearly from the start: my highest priority is to give students in my district and across the state access to quality educational opportunities, and in my judgment, this means giving options to children who are attending, or are seeking to attend, charter public schools that perform high and play by the rules, while not hurting the children educated in our district system. It’s not anti- or pro-charter. It’s not anti- or pro-district. It’s pro-student and pro-public education.

    So what does this mean? For me, it means three things:

    1. Allow the targeted expansion of well-performing charter schools. There are charter schools doing right by students and their parents and by the education system as a whole. They recognize the importance of serving a population that is representative of the district they draw from and providing the kind of individualized support that many students need. These charter schools have an important role to play in serving underserved students and families. I have voted in the past for expansion of these charter schools and continue to voice my support for targeted expansion so long as it’s in tandem with the following two criteria.

    2. Continue closing the gap between who charters and districts are serving. While the reforms of 2010 have helped to address some of the disparities, most stakeholders – in the charter and district systems alike – recognize that we still have important strides to make. For example, an opt-out admissions lottery where all students in a district are entered and can either accept or decline a seat (instead of the current application-based process) would open up doors to students whose parents are not now accessing the charter system. Also, limiting new charters to schools with attrition rates that are at least equal to those of the district would help to address the concern that some charters “counsel out” students who require more individualized services. I support and have worked to draft legislation to ensure that charter schools continue the march toward more opportunity for all students.

    3. Address funding inequities between charter and district schools. The funding the state has promised to school districts to cover the transition costs of students leaving for charter schools is currently underfunded by 25% and the proposals for next year look roughly the same. For this year, that’s a loss of $10 million for Boston alone. This trend is eroding our commitment to equity for the many students who remain in district schools. Districts like Boston also pay for transportation of charter students above and beyond what they offer district students, and for high-cost special-education programming that charters are simply too small to offer. These inequities result in diminished resources for district school students, who make up the vast majority of students. I also recognize – and have made proposals to address – some of the funding inequities for charter schools, such as access to the state’s fund for construction and rehabilitation of school buildings, a funding stream that currently only districts can access. Concurrent with opening up more seats for charter schools, we need to ensure that our financing mechanisms live up to our past promises and our stated values.

    What all this comes down to is finding a balanced third way that breaks from the “us-versus-them” mentality that has unfortunately characterized much of the debate on this issue. It’s not time for complacency or hyperbole. It’s time to find actionable solutions. And while the compromises I put on the table in the last several weeks, including an agreement with Representative Russell Holmes, the chief House sponsor of the charter-cap-lift legislation, were rejected, I will continue to work toward these ends, fighting to ensure that all children receive a high quality education that sets them on the path to success.

    I’ve learned that a position like mine, which doesn’t easily track with one side or the other and isn’t amenable to quick sound bites, can be subject to mischaracterization. I’ve been called a capitulator to the corporatization of public schools and, alternately, too fearful of teachers’ unions. I think my voting and legislative record demonstrate that neither of these charges is true. While passionate debate should always be a part of politics, I fear that increasing levels of exaggeration and truth-stretching are hurting our democracy. I hope you will work with me to question leaders of any organizations you might be involved with if you see them going down this path. For my part, I will continue to be deliberative and reflective in my work on this issue, striving to ensure the best for students in charter and district systems alike.

    As you may know, the House Committee on Ways and Means is considering a bill dealing with charter and turnaround schools. As this legislation and any bills like it wind their way through the legislative process, please know that I will continue to keep your views in mind. Thank you again for reaching out to me and for your advocacy, which is so important to bringing about better public policy in our Commonwealth.

    Reply

  3. Less satisfactory response from Norfolk County representative Alice Peisch who is leading the push to lift the charter cap:

    Thank you for your email, and I sincerely apologize for my delayed response. I appreciate the concerns you have raised regarding potential changes to the charter school statute and the impact of any such changes on the Boston Public School System. The legislation that I have proposed attempts to address many of the concerns that have been raised by imposing new requirements to ensure that students who more closely reflect the sending district’s school population are served by charter schools. Lastly, I believe that it is critical that the state maintains its commitment to reimburse districts for charter school tuition.

    I can assure you that I will keep your concerns in mind as we continue to analyze and work on this legislation throughout the remainder of the session. I welcome any additional suggestions you may have to offer.

    Sincerely,
    Alice Peisch

    Reply

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