Massachusetts voters to decide on lifting the cap for new charter schools; the arguments will be familiar to Washingtonians


We’ll be clear at the beginning. We like Washington’s charter school law and hope the state Supreme Court doesn’t tamper with it. We’ve said so many times, including here and here

So it’s interesting to see the debate occurring in Massachusetts this fall. The Manhattan Institute frames the argument in this article (full brief here). 

On November 8, Massachusetts residents will vote on Ballot Question 2, a referendum on whether to lift a statewide cap and allow up to 12 new charter schools to launch each year, with a preference given to charters that would open in low-performing districts. Proponents note that charters in the Bay State show some of the strongest academic results in the country and that lifting the cap would allow more disadvantaged students to attend high-quality charters. Opponents argue that the students who enroll in charter schools drain more than $400 million a year in state aid that currently goes to traditional public school districts.

Sound familiar? Here’s the Institute’s conclusion.

Massachusetts’s charter sector is among the strongest in the country. In Boston, students in charter schools learn twice as much in a year as students in the city’s district schools. The success of Massachusetts charter schools has not done demonstrable academic harm to traditional district schools; indeed, student achievement has risen signi cantly across the 10 districts with the highest local share of charter enrollment.

The enrollment in Massachusetts’s charter schools means that local school districts lose more than $400 million in aid under Chapter 70. But that figure ignores the role of local contributions and the fact that charter enrollment also e ectively increases per-pupil spending by over $85 million. On the whole, the evidence lends far more support to the arguments of charter proponents than those of charter opponents.

The American Interest also looks at the Massachusetts ballot issue and the Manhattan Institute report. It’s going to be a close election, they suggest.

While the pro-charter side had a wide lead in the Spring, more recent polling shows the anti-charter forces with a slight edge going into the last several weeks of the campaign. Part of the reason is that advocates have not done enough to win over local teachers. Unions are united against the measure, and fighting tooth-and-nail, often with outright misinformation. That is a shame, as one of the goals of charter schools should be to empower good teachers to manage their classrooms more effectively.

Again, familiar?

TAI concludes,

The charter movement isn’t perfect, and, win or lose, it has more work to do. But there is little doubt that Bay State charters are among the most well-managed in the nation, and that they have improved the life prospects of tens of thousands of disadvantaged students. Here’s hoping Massachusetts voters decide to build on the program’s impressive success and expand opportunity even further.

And here’s hoping that the Washington charter schools continue to offer a positive alternative for students here.