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Black leaders, voters split on charter schools

There was cognitive dissonance this week in the battle over Question 2, which would allow for more charter schools in Massachusetts.

Over the weekend, opponents sent out a press release touting a resolution from the NAACP calling for a national moratorium on charter expansion and raising concerns about charters draining money from traditional public schools.

“The NAACP firmly believes that an expansion of a two-tiered system of separate and unequal schools will do irreparable harm to the lives of all students in our public schools,” said Juan Cofield, president of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP and chair of the “No on 2” campaign, in a statement.

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But days later, a poll from public radio station WBUR showed non-white voters backing charter expansion.

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It was the latest indication of a split between black leaders who oppose charters — from Cofield, to Black Lives Matter Cambridge, to Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson — and families in low-income neighborhoods who see charters as an important alternative to traditional public schools.

Cofield, in an interview with the Globe, said “the black community has been told over and over that charter schools are better” and “proponents of charter schools have been demonizing the public schools.” It’s only natural. he said, that many non-white voters had come to believe that message. But when charter opponents “tell the truth,” voters “quickly change” their minds, he said.

Cofield said he was skeptical of research out of Stanford, Harvard, and MIT showing urban charter schools in Massachusetts have performed well with black and Latino students.

Not all black leaders have come out against the ballot measure, though. In a recent opinion article, Henry M. Thomas III, chief executive of the Urban League of Springfield, wrote, “I respectfully, but strongly, disagree with the NAACP’s decision,” pointing to a recent study suggesting the financial drain on traditional public schools has not been substantial.

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Charters can provide “a world-class education for all our children,” he wrote, on masslive.com. “For communities of color in the Commonwealth, this is our moment. Let us not allow it to pass us by.”

David Scharfenberg can be reached at david.scharfenberg@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @dscharfGlobe