Moody’s won’t elaborate on charter school caveat

A man walked out of North Andover Town Hall, where early voting took place last week.
A man walked out of North Andover Town Hall, where early voting took place last week.Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The credit-rating agency Moody’s Investors Service, which sent e-mails to four Massachusetts cities this week warning that voter approval of a charter-expansion ballot measure could weaken their financial standing, is declining to provide an explanation for its position or a draft of its full analysis.

“Moody’s has not published any research on Question 2 in Massachusetts, and cannot comment on any potential credit impact until after the outcome of the vote has been determined,” David Jacobson, a spokesman for Moody’s, said in a prepared statement.

The e-mails said the agency would provide city officials with a draft analysis of the possible impact of the referendum on Wednesday for their comment, with plans to publish a final version after the election.


But officials in three of the cities that received the e-mails — Boston, Springfield, and Lawrence — said they had not received the draft analysis Thursday. Officials in the fourth city, Fall River, did not respond to requests for comment.

The brief Moody’s e-mails, sent Monday, said passage of Question 2 would be “credit negative” for the cities. But they did not detail the basis for that.

In an analysis published in 2013, Moody’s warned that the dramatic rise in charter school enrollment nationwide was likely to create “negative credit pressure” on school districts in economically weak areas.

When districts lose students and education aid to charter schools, Moody’s said, they often find it difficult to adjust by cutting staff and closing underutilized school buildings because of union contracts.

The potential financial drag of charters on traditional public schools is one of many factors credit agencies consider when setting bond ratings for cities.

The Globe first reported the e-mails Tuesday night, and opponents of the referendum quickly seized on the story, saying the Moody’s notices reinforced their argument that city finances could be undercut if voters approve an expansion of charter schools.


“These warnings dispel any notion that Question 2 is good for our cities or our urban students,” said Juan Cofield, president of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP and chairman of the Campaign to Save Our Public Schools, which opposes Question 2.

A spokeswoman for the “Yes on 2” campaign said this week that it would be “irresponsible” to comment on the e-mails before Moody’s issued its full report, “without access to a single number or piece of data to provide any context.” She also pointed to other studies that, she said, show “public charter schools have had zero negative impact on district school finances.”

A recent Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation study found that “per-student funding has increased quite steadily across the state” in traditional public schools, even as the charter sector has grown. Another study, from the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a fiscal watchdog, showed the City of Boston has diverted money from other departments to the Boston Public Schools to make up for the education aid lost to charters. The pro-charter Boston Foundation funded both studies.

Charter critics say siphoning money from other city services to make up for the loss of aid to traditional public schools is not sustainable in the long run. But charter supporters say school districts losing money to charters must do the hard work of cutting costs and closing schools.

David Scharfenberg can be reached at david.scharfenberg