Question 2 and what it means...

Hello! Back again to talk about politics, schools and Question 2 on the upcoming November ballot. I'm going out of order on the questions based on what I feel like talking about first. It's my blog, I get to do that!

What is Question 2: The short answer is voting yes to Question 2 means you are in favor of raising the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Massachusetts.

Now you may be thinking charter schools are good, right? President Obama is all about increasing charter schools, so how could they be a bad thing. I admit I was taken by surprise by a young man at my door over a month ago now, campaigning against Question 2. He told me our school committee had voted to oppose it, it sucks money out of the public schools, and a few other things. I said I wouldn't sign the pledge, but I pledged to find out more about it.

So I began reading. I wrote to my friendly neighborhood school committee members, Kaytie Dowcett and John Frassica. I received very passionate responses from both. Yes, the school committee had voted unanimously to stand in opposition to Question 2. The SC does not see more charter schools as an answer to any concern about our school district.

Charter schools are essentially private schools that operate using public school funding. They are generally established with a board of directors, and in a recent study, were found to consist mostly of people from business and finance industries, not parents or educators. In MA they do have to have an accountability plan, they are reviewed annually and then a evaluation is done after 5 years to see if they are performing up to standards and to determine if their charter should be renewed. That could be a students entire elementary school life cycle which passes before someone says this school isn't meeting the needs of the students.

Charter schools also do not have to adhere to any particular admission criteria. While they are required to give preference to students from within their district, they can decide who they will admit with no requirement to maintain diversity by any definition and often end accepting from the applications the brightest students, least problem causing students, don't need any services and make whatever stats they DO decide to report look really good students. Additionally, if a student decides to attend a charter school outside of their home district, the tuition for that child is paid by the home district. So you are not only taking money away from a district, it is going to another district. It doesn't stay in the city in this scenario.

My primary issue with the concept of charter schools is that they use public funds, but do not receive much direct oversight from the school district or state.  If you want a private education, go to a private school. If you want an education funded by public tax dollars, you have that available. The argument that charter schools create competition and thus improve the standards of all teaching in any district is, in my humble opinion, a smoke screen and a bunch of bunk. In Waltham our teachers and administration work extremely hard to provide extraordinary educational experiences to our students. I have had teachers who thought of extra projects that would engage my son in practicing skills such as writing by doing things he loved to do outside of the classroom. I see our teachers at school before and after hours, planning and working with kids. I cannot imagine a scenario under which these teachers would be seen as slackers, and they certainly would not be inspired to work harder by a school that has no oversight, no accreditation and no reason to deliver a quality education.

As I said I am sure there are good ones out there. I do not see the need to increase the cap on the number of them that can be established. I want to keep our public dollars in the public school system. I want Dr. Drew Echelson and his team to have all of the resources available to them to do the best possible job they can do and not have it siphoned off by a school they do not have any control over.

We have focused over the last year and change on being #oneWaltham. That means focusing on our school system, and through collaboration, deliberate and thoughtful hiring and training of our staff and teachers we are creating a system that people are proud of and want to be part of. If the caps were increased, and room were made to potentially launch a charter school in Waltham, or if more are available in other districts that our students decide to attend, that takes money away from Waltham schools and gives it to the charter school.  I see this only as a detriment to our system, not a positive. I will be voting no on Question 2, in support of our existing school system and our teachers.

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