Metro

Councilors file resolution opposing charter school ballot question

Boston City Hall.

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Boston City Hall.

Two Boston city councilors are attempting to rally their colleagues in opposition to a controversial state ballot question, which if approved, could pave the way for more charter schools in Massachusetts.

Councilors Matt O’Malley and Tito Jackson recently filed a resolution opposing the Question 2 ballot referendum, which seeks to raise the state’s cap on charter schools and allow lawmakers to approve up to a dozen new public charters a year in the lowest-performing districts.

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The councilors, who will formally introduce the resolution at Wednesday’s City Council meeting, join Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh in opposing the higher cap.

Proponents of the expanding charter schools, which include Governor Charlie Baker, say the added competition would give Massachusetts families more choice and flexibility.

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Last year, at a rally of charter school proponents at the State House, Baker said, “For a state that prides itself on being the originator of great public education . . . the fact that we have 37,000 kids on a waiting list to get into [charter schools] here in the Commonwealth is a disgrace.”

In phone interviews Sunday, Jackson and O’Malley fervently disagreed, predicting that the impacts of expanding charter schools would be “dire.”

“Adding 12 new charter schools [per year] statewide would not only harm public schools in Boston, but I believe it will irrefutably harm the current charter schools in the district,” he said. “It’s unfair, it’s unconscionable, and it’s a recipe for disaster.”

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Jackson and O’Malley mostly framed their objections as a funding issue, because they perceive educational investment to be zero-sum game.

There is essentially one pot of money for public education in Massachusetts, the Chapter 70 local aid allotment. If more charter schools are licensed without a change in that funding structure, the councilors believe, the expansion will mean less money for traditional public schools — which educate the majority of city’s publicly-educated students.

In the soon-to-be considered resolution, Jackson and O’Malley claim charter schools siphon $158.28 million from Boston Public Schools and $537 million from local districts statewide.

The resolution says an expansion would also diminish enrollment at Boston’s parochial schools.

“This isn’t about being pro or against charter schools,” O’Malley said. “You can be procharter and vote against the ballot question in November. I’m hopeful this ballot question will be defeated and then the state Legislature can come up with someone that more equitably distributes the funds to urban schools.”

Dominic Slowey, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association, called the councilors’ resolution divisive and misguided. According to Slowey, charter schools fill “the need for more high-quality public educational options for Boston families.”

“More than 10,000 children are enrolled in Boston public charters, but 12,000 are stranded on waiting lists — more than 20 percent of total [Boston public school] enrollment,” Slowey said in a statement. Voting ‘yes’ on November’s ballot question “would ensure fair access to more high-quality public charters.”

‘This isn’t about being pro or against charter schools. You can be procharter and vote against the ballot question in November.’

Matt O’Malley, sponsor of city council resolution opposing a higher cap on charter schools 
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Slowey cited statistics from the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, which found no evidence that Boston’s growth in charter schools has taken money from Boston Public Schools.

Jackson and O’Malley’s resolution cited data to support their stand from the board of directors of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, which includes Boston.

That association unanimously voted to oppose the charter school ballot question, “citing their concern over the financial impact on local public schools, as well as charter school accountability and transparency issues,” the resolution states.

It is not immediately clear how many members of the 13-person council support Jackson and O’Malley’s position. All councilors will have the opportunity to voice their views on the resolution Wednesday.

Glenn Koocher, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, said 65 local school districts across the state have adopted resolutions opposing the November ballot measure.

“Our public policy is dramatically undermined by the ballot question,” Koocher said. “If you’re a baseball team, and all your .300 hitters are recruited to the charter team, it’s harder to win more games.”

This all comes after the City Council — and specifically Jackson — sparred with Walsh on educational funding issues and thousands of public school students walked out of class in protest.

Now, Walsh and Jackson are united in opposition to the charter school ballot question.

Months ago, while speaking to the state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Education, Walsh said “the ballot is not the answer — because this is not a ‘yes or no’ question.”

In remarks to the local research bureau in March, Walsh said that regardless of the outcome of November’s ballot question, school-funding mechanisms need to change.

“If rejected, [the ballot measure] leaves us on the unsustainable path we are on,” he said, according to prepared remarks in March. “And if passed, it would make things dramatically worse.”

A spokesman for Baker said in a statement Sunday that the governor has proposed changing school-funding mechanisms and has increased local education funding two years in a row, pushing Chapter 70 money to its highest ever statewide levels.

A recent poll commissioned by the Massachusetts Charter Public School Association found that 75 percent of parents support allowing more charter schools in the state.

Support, the poll found, was particularly strong among black, Latino, and low-income parents.

Astead W. Herndon can be reached at astead.herndon-@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @AsteadWH.
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