Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools in Massachusetts, reports that the state of Massachusetts is set to compel the public schools of New Bedford to divert $15 million to a low-performing charter school that wants to triple its enrollment.

Two years ago, the voters of Massachusetts decisively voted against a measure to lift the cap on charter schools. The elected officials of New Bedford do not want the charter in their small city to grow from 450 to nearly 1,200 students. As we have seen time and again, democracy is an impediment to the voracious charter industry. As we learned in an earlier post, local leaders fear that the charter expansion will set back the progress that the New Bedford public schools have made in recent years. In this curious episode, the public schools are more successful than the charter that wants to expand.

She writes:

“The request by Alma del Mar charter school in New Bedford to add 1,188 seats to its current enrollment of 450 is mind-boggling. Such an expansion is exactly what voters in New Bedford and nearly every other community statewide said they opposed.

“Thanks to a vigorous grass-roots campaign, Massachusetts residents who cast ballots in 2016 had learned the basics of the charter school system: Privately run schools that have found ways to include some students and exclude others drain public funds away from schools that educate all children…

“While current Massachusetts charter regulations do allow for more charter school seats in New Bedford, the community has no appetite for what Alma del Mar is serving. The people elected to represent the views of the community—city councilors, school committee members, state representatives, and New Bedford’s mayor—have forcefully opposed this expansion as well as a smaller proposal from the Global Learning charter school to increase its enrollment by 100.

“It is easy to understand their opposition: Why shift $15 million from schools that educate all children to private operations that do not perform as well as many of the public schools, and do not dazzle in any way?

“Claims that Alma del Mar, which enrolls students in kindergarten through grade 5, is somehow exceptional are dubious. Even the state’s own narrow accountability system finds Alma del Mar is not meeting targets, while more than half of the elementary schools in New Bedford are meeting theirs. New Bedford Public Schools have far more certified teachers in their classrooms; last year more than 94 percent of the teachers in New Bedford Public Schools were fully certified, compared with fewer than 63 percent of the teachers at Alma del Mar. Also last year, Alma del Mar sought to send some of its students to public schools for courses the charter school was unable to offer…

“The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, not the New Bedford community, will decide the fate of Alma del Mar’s expansion as well as the fate of all the students who would be forced to withstand the devastating repercussions of New Bedford losing so much state aid for public education.”