Boston School Committee takes up charter school question
The Boston School Committee, concerned about the financial impact of more charter schools, is poised to join more than 120 other school committees across the state to oppose a ballot question that would allow for the proliferation of charter schools.
At the committee’s meeting Wednesday night, chairman Michael O’Neill and vice chairman Hardin Coleman presented a draft resolution against the ballot question, which stated that state aid to charter schools “fiscally undermines the ability of the Boston Public Schools to support the cost of a quality educational program to its students.”
The seven-member committee, which is appointed by Mayor Martin J. Walsh, who opposes the ballot question, is expected to vote on the resolution at its next meeting on Oct. 5.
If approved, the School Committee will be following in the footsteps of the Boston City Council, which approved a similar resolution in August.
“We don’t want to demonize charters,” O’Neill said. “There are good charters in the city, but if we look at the way the ballot question is written — without a funding mechanism — there is serious impact on the 57,000 students in our care.”
Opposing the ballot question would represent a dramatic move for a board that in recent years has entered into two compacts with the city’s charter schools in an effort to foster a more collaborative relationship and to share best practices.
The ballot question would allow for the opening of up to 12 charter schools a year in any school system across the state without any regard of the effect on a school system’s budget. Each student who departs for a charter school takes with him or her thousands in per-pupil state aid from their school systems.
In Boston, that amount is expected to exceed $135 million this school year.
School officials and many parents say the loss of aid exacerbates tight finances facing school systems, leading to further budget cuts.
But charter advocates say school systems don’t need that money because they have fewer students to educate and that the state provides a limited amount of reimbursement to districts in the initial years of the opening of a new charter school.
During the meeting, school officials attempted to build a case that the ballot question is unnecessary and potentially financially devastating to the school system.
They argued that under the state’s current spending cap on charter school tuition that an additional 4,000 seats could still be created over the next 10 years. That’s because more money could be spent on charter schools as the size of the Boston school budget increases from one year to the next.
But if ballot question passes — relegating the spending cap obsolete — officials said an additional 20,000 seats could be created over the next 10 years. That calculation was based on a scenario of three new charter schools opening annually.
Member Alexandra Oliver-Davila, whose daughter attends a charter school, said she opposes the ballot question, but urged the school system to do some deep thinking.
“I think to me it’s clear there is definitely some monetary impact, but we need to ask ourselves as a district why families are choosing charters,” she said.
In public comments before the presentation, Gabriela Pereira, a student at Excel High School in South Boston, urged the School Committee to pass the resolution, arguing the school system cannot afford any more financial losses. She talked about how budget cuts have left the school with no textbooks in her statistics class and that her Advanced Placement class is packed with 40 students.
“We are drowning in our school system when we should be uplifted by our communities,” she said.
Several parents followed her expressing similar concerns about the budget impact.
But some charter school advocates spoke in favor of the ballot question.
“My daughter has done so much better at KIPP,” said Pertreena Cherrie, whose daughter is in the eighth grade at the charter school, which is located in Mattapan. “I would love for KIPP Academy to have a high school. . . . It’s a family at KIPP where teachers care for her.”
In the hours before the meeting, charter school advocates trumpeted the release of a report by the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research that said Massachusetts charter schools pose no financial threat to traditional school systems.
The report aimed to debunk a claim by opponents that charters drain more than $400 million a years from Massachusetts school systems. The New York institute, which calls itself “a voice for free-marked ideas,” examined increases in the state’s school budgets between fiscal 2011 and 2015 and concluded that the Boston school system budget, for instance, grew by nearly 24 percent.