Governor Charlie Baker is asking suburban voters to support a ballot measure allowing for more charter schools in Massachusetts in a television advertisement that began airing Tuesday.
The 30-second spot, timed to land in the crucial home stretch of the campaign, aims to convert the governor’s popularity into support for charters in a particularly vote-rich segment of the electorate.
“Massachusetts has many great public schools,” he says, sitting in his Swampscott living room. “And we took it for granted that our kids would go to great public schools. But some kids aren’t so lucky. Where they live, they don’t go to a great school and they have no choice. Imagine if your kids were trapped in a failing school. Public charter schools give parents a choice.”
Charter schools have a freer hand with budgets, curriculum, and hiring than traditional public schools and are often not unionized.
Strategists for the “Yes on 2” campaign view the suburbs as a vital battleground, with just two weeks to go before voters decide a ballot measure that would allow for the creation or expansion of 12 charter schools per year.
A previous advertisement, using language and imagery similar to that of the new Baker spot, made a direct appeal to the conscience of white, suburban voters — asking voters to “imagine” their own children trapped in failing schools.
Save Our Public Schools, the teachers union-backed group opposing Question 2, says charters are a financial drain on traditional public schools. And in a statement Tuesday, the group criticized Baker for repeating “the ludicrous idea that Question 2 won’t affect any family who likes their school.”
“There are hundreds of thousands of families who love their local public schools in every community in Massachusetts, and Question 2, by removing all limits on charter school expansion, will lead to even deeper budget cuts in urban, suburban, and rural school districts,” the group said.
Charters could open anywhere under the referendum before voters. But if there are more than 12 charter proposals in a given year, the state will give preference to proposals in low-performing districts.
Charter proponents note that most of the existing charter schools in the state are in urban districts where demand is greatest. And they say there is little reason to expect a burst of new charters in rural and suburban areas.
Moreover, they say, more charters could open in rural and suburban communities now, regardless of what happens with the referendum, because most have not yet bumped up against existing caps on charters.
Baker has been a vocal supporter of charter schools and the referendum. But that message may not have reached casual voters yet.
The new spot represents a significant investment of political capital by the governor in a tight race. Recent public polls show the “no” side edging out the “yes” side.
But public opinion on ballot questions is often susceptible to big swings in the closing weeks, as voters with unsettled views begin tuning into the campaign.
A recent analysis by the Center for Public Integrity showed the “yes” side outspending the “no” side by a two-to-one ratio in what has become the most expensive ballot-question air war in the country.
The “Yes on 2” campaign says it will spend significant sums on the new Baker advertisement. The release of the spot will coincide with a string of Baker events highlighting his support for the ballot question, starting Wednesday afternoon with a speech to campaign volunteers in a Dorchester backyard, followed by door-to-door voter outreach.