Advocacy group Democrats for Education Reform launched a campaign Monday aimed at shoring up lagging Democratic support for charter schools, just two weeks before voters decide a ballot measure that would allow for more of them.
The $500,000 effort, which includes phone calls, mailings, and radio advertising, comes as polls show Democrats turning sharply against the referendum and threatening its prospects for passage.
A WBUR survey from last week showed 64 percent of Democrats opposed to Question 2 and 30 percent in favor. Overall, the “no” side led 48 to 41 percent among likely voters.
Charter backers say the opposition’s argument that the schools drain money from traditional public schools seems to be playing an outsize role in swaying Democrats.
“The campaign against expanding successful charter schools has attempted to scare white, suburban, Democratic voters into opposing Question 2,” said Liam Kerr, state director for the Massachusetts chapter of Democrats for Education Reform, in a statement. “What those special interests don’t want Democratic voters to know is that the party’s leadership, such as President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, strongly support the expansion of high-quality public charter schools.”
Surveys show that one key Democratic constituency — nonwhite voters — remain in support of charter expansion.
Pro-charter groups have been highlighting that support in a bid to win over white, liberal voters. But they’re also trying to drive up black and Latino turnout on Election Day.
The new Democrats for Education Reform campaign, dubbed “Advancing Obama’s Legacy on Charter Schools,” includes Spanish-language radio advertisements and mailings highlighting the president’s support for charters.
“In Massachusetts, more than 32,000 of our children are stuck on charter wait lists,” a narrator says in one advertisement. “Many of them are Latinos stuck in failing schools. Help advance President Obama’s legacy on charter schools.”
Democrats for Education Reform plans to air ads on about 20 Spanish-language radio stations in Boston and Lawrence and to run print advertisements in newspapers such as El Planeta, which is aimed at Latino readers, and the Bay State Banner, which is geared toward blacks.
Charter schools have a freer hand with budgets and hiring than traditional public schools and are frequently not unionized.
Supporters say they provide a vital alternative for families, particularly in low-income areas with struggling public schools. Opponents say they are expected to drain $451 million from traditional public schools this fiscal year.
Charter backers say that doesn’t necessarily mean traditional public school districts get less, in the end. The city of Boston, for instance, has made up for the funding lost to charters by diverting money from other services to education.
But prominent Democrats like US Senator Elizabeth Warren and Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh have come out against Question 2, which would allow for the creation or expansion of 12 new charter schools per year.
Proponents have emphasized the recent endorsement of Massachusetts House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo, a Democrat.
Democrats for Education Reform has also tried to undercut the opposition of more than 180 school committees around Massachusetts. In a recent letter to the Massachusetts Association of School Committees, the group said the vast majority of school districts “would not be impacted in any way by the ballot question” and suggested local school committees are leaving voters with a false impression that they will.