Archives for category: Massachusetts

The credit rating agency Moody’s informed cities in Massachusetts that the recent vote not to add more charter schools was good for their credit ratings and will help key their borrowing costs lower. Voters defeated Question 2 by 62-38%. It won approval only in a few urban districts. The vote against the proposal was highest in districts with charters, where funding for public schools had decreased.

“The decision of Massachusetts voters to reject a ballot question expanding charter schools is “credit positive” for urban cities like Springfield and Boston, the rating agency Moody’s said Tuesday.

“The result is credit positive for urban local governments because it will allow those cities and towns to maintain current financial operations without having to adjust to increased financial pressure from charter school funding,” Moody’s wrote in a report.

“The ballot question would have allowed state officials to approve up to 12 new charter schools a year outside of an existing cap. The current cap ensures that school districts spend no more than 9 percent of their budgets, or 18 percent in low-performing districts, paying for student tuition to charter schools. That limits the number of charter schools that can grow or expand in urban areas like Boston and Springfield, resulting in waiting lists.

“A central part of the debate over charter school expansion was funding. When a child attends a charter school, the state money to educate that child goes to the charter school, although the district gets reimbursed for the first years to smooth over the transition costs. Opponents of charter school expansion say the funding formula took money from the traditional public schools, hurting struggling districts, even though the loss of students did not affect the schools’ fixed costs.

“Moody’s wrote in its report that since 2010, cities like Boston, Fall River, Lawrence and Springfield have seen charter school spending grow by 83 percent even as overall spending on public education in the state grew by only 15 percent.”

Last week’s election was both a victory and a defeat for corporate education reform. On one hand, Donald Trump won with a strong commitment to school choice and privatization, which is the highest goal of corporate reformers. He will very likely appoint a Supreme Court justice (or justices) hostile to unions, another priority of the so-called reformers. Maybe now, they can give up their pretense of being Democrats and hail the new regime in D.C.

On the other hand, voters in two very different states–Massachusetts and Georgia–were asked if they wanted to “improve” their schools by turning them over to the charter industry, and both states answered with a resounding NO.

In Georgia, despite a deceptively worded constitutional amendment, a bipartisan majority voted 60-40 against allowing the governor to create a special district where low-scoring schools could be converted to charters.

In Massachusetts, the corporate financiers bundled $26 million, mostly from out of state donors, to promote Question 2, which would add 12 new charters every year. The advertising campaign tried to sell Question 2 as a civil rights issue. They promised it would not defund public schools. They swore it was only “for the kids.” Question 2 lost overwhelmingly by 68-32%. Two-thirds of the voters did not believe the promises.

Here is the big news: The largest vote against charters in the Massachusetts vote came in communities that already had charters. The voters knew that charters were taking money from their public schools. They didn’t like what charters were doing to their communities.

“Almost all of the fiercest Question 2 opponents were cities and towns whose public schools are losing money to charter schools.

“Easthampton topped all Massachusetts municipalities in the strength of its opposition — 76.2 percent voted ” No,” or 7,324 against 2,290 “Yes” votes — and that city will lose $940,000 to its charter school, Hilltown Cooperative Charter Public School, in fiscal 2016.

“It comes right off the top,” Easthampton Mayor Karen Cadieux said Thursday. “If you’re saying it doesn’t cost us anything, then you need to explain why I’m $940,000 short.”

“Hadley and South Hadley also followed the pattern, voting “no” to the tune of 73.7 and 68.9 percent. South Hadley contains Pioneer Valley Performing Arts Charter Public School and Hadley houses Pioneer Valley Chinese Immersion Charter School.

“Despite being located in Eastern Massachusetts, where opposition to Question 2 was not as high as in the rest of the state, Somerville also voted strongly against Question 2, with 71.2 percent of voters opposed. The city houses Prospect Hill Academy Charter School.

“Greenfield, where Four Rivers Charter Public School makes its home, voted against Question 2 by 71 percent. In Holyoke, which contains Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter School, 66 percent opposed.”

Despite the millions of dollars in Dark Money, despite the big buy on television, despite the civil rights rhetoric, Question 2 was rejected.

The best part of this election, other than the victory of public education, was that opponents of Question 2 were fully informed about the threat that privatization posed to public education in General and to their public schools in particular. Only a handful of affluent districts supported the measure. The rest understood that they were repelling an existential threat to a democratic institution that belongs to their community: their public schools.

Jeff Bryant, a wise observer of politics and education, offers solace at a time when supporters of public education fear the ascendancy of a Republican President and Congress devoted to privatization of schools.

He reviews the electoral victories for public schools.

Chief among them, of course, were the overwhelming defeat of charter school measures in Massachusetts and Georgia.

Another victory occurred in Washington State, where Bill Gates spent $500,000 into an effort to unseat Supreme Court justices who ruled that charter schools are not public schools. The Justice who wrote that decision, Barbara Madsen, was re-elected with 64% of the vote. Two other incumbents were re-elected.

Montana Governor Steve Bullock, a strong supporter of public schools, was re-elected, running against an advocate of school choice.

California voters passed measures to assure school funding.

One other piece of good news–and these days, any piece of good news is welcome–is that Maine voters narrowly agreed to raise taxes by 3% on upper-income taxpayers, to increase education funding.

EduShyster (aka Jennifer Berkshire, a resident of Massachusetts) explains here how a coalition of parents, teachers, students, and civil rights activists defeated Question 2.

Question 2 was a measure on the ballot to expand the number of charter schools in the state by 12 every year, indefinitely. Opponents of the measure said it would drain money from the existing public schools, which enroll 96% of the children in the state. Advocates said it would not. Advocates claimed that they were fighting for opportunity for poor kids to escape failing public schools. Opponents didn’t buy it.

Support for Question 2 came mostly from out-of-state people of great wealth. These people, such as the Waltons and Michael Bloomberg, put up at least $26 million to advocate for more charters. I thought the charter advocates had put up $22 million, but Jonathan Pelto reported yesterday that they had actually spent $26 million. The opposition raised about $12 million, mostly from teachers’ unions and individual small contributions by teachers and parents.

For a billionaire to drop $2 million into a ballot issue in Massachusetts or anywhere else would be akin to one of us sending a dollar to the March of Dimes. They won’t miss it. At some point, however, if they keep losing, they might get bored and find a different hobby.

The election was a battle royal over the future of public education in Massachusetts, and large numbers of people mobilized to save their public schools. Support among black voters was the same as among white voters.

Question 2 was defeated by a vote of 62% to 38%. It was a knock-out punch for the billionaires and the many financiers whose names were hidden from public view because of arcane campaign finance laws that enable “dark money” to be spent without identifying its source.

Berkshire writes:

I could give you a long list of reasons why Question 2 went down in flames. It was a complicated policy question that should never have made it onto the ballot. Yes on 2, despite outspending the ‘no’ camp 2-1 couldn’t find a message that worked, and was never able to counter the single argument that most resonated with voters against charter schools: they take money away from public schools and the kids who attend them. #NoOn2 also tapped into genuinely viral energy. The coalition extended well beyond the teachers unions that funded it, growing to include members of all kinds of unions, as well as social justice and civil rights groups, who fanned out across the state every weekend. By election day, the sprawling network of mostly volunteer canvassers had made contact with more than 1.5 million voters.

Question 2 had not only unprecedented funding, it had the support of the Governor and the state’s Secretary of Education, James Peyser, who is a longtime advocate for charters and a member of the board of Families for Excellent Schools, the same organization that bundled money in New York and elsewhere to push for charters.

Berkshire writes that when people who had no particular interest in charters or public schools began to see who was behind Question 2, she realized that Question 2 was in big trouble:

Do you know why hating on the Yankees is such a popular pastime in Massachusetts? Because they’re regarded as rich, entitled assholes from New York. Which is why the decision to rely so heavily on well, rich, entitled assholes from New York to fund the Yes on 2 campaign puzzles one so. By the final tally before the election, Families for Excellent Schools, reduced to serving as a conduit for the offerings of rich Wall Street-ers, had gifted more than $17 million to the cause. Former Mayor Michael Bloomberg, meanwhile, kicked in an additional $250,000 on top of the $240,000 he contributed back in August. To average voters, unfamiliar with the reform trope of the billionaire changemaker, the outsized role being played by rich New Yorkers was utterly incomprehensible. It’s not enough to field the richest baseball team money can buy, now they want our schools too?

The Yes on 2 team insisted that the public schools would not lose any money if there were more charters, but school committees called out their lie:

By October it was clear that the Question 2 ship was beginning to list. The original claim, debuted in a massive ad buy during the Olympics, that expanding charter schools would actually increase funding for public education, had failed to resonate with voters, and so it was off to the next argument. It turned out that charter schools didn’t *drain* or *siphon* money away from district schools as team #NoOn2 kept insisting—and here was a press release about a study to prove it. But once again, Question 2’s proponents, including editorial page editors at the Boston Globe, which ran a prominent *no draining, no siphoning* editorial, ran into the buzzsaw of a whole bunch of people all over the state who actually knew stuff.

Those school committees, which just would not stop passing resolutions against the ballot question, could tell you exactly how much money their city or town was spending on charter schools. The Mayor of Northampton, which is about as far from Boston as you can get, pointed out that his town spends more to send kids to the specialized charter schools favored by affluent parents—a subspecies never mentioned during the campaign—than on an entire elementary school. Meanwhile, cities that are already home to the largest number of charters and would be most affected by the passage of Question 2, began tallying how much charters were already costing them. Lowell, for example, has seen a drastic spike in its charter school bill and now spends more than $16 million on a parallel school system, money that’s being diverted away from *extras,* like paving the roads in Mill City. The charter waitlist in Lowell, by the way, is dwarfed by the number of kids waiting to get into district schools.

The privatization movement lost in both Massachusetts and Georgia, where Governor Deal wanted to change the state constitution to allow the state to take over low-performing schools and give them to charter organizations. The lesson is that it is cheaper and easier to make campaign contributions to elect pro-charter candidates to state boards and state legislatures than to take a risk on a popular vote. In the case of Georgia, Governor Deal could not eliminate local control without changing the state constitution. And the voters said no, by a vote of 60-40.

Read the article. The defeat of Question 2 proves that big money can be beaten when citizens are informed, organized, and prepared to defend their public schools against privatization.

This came in my email this morning:

For a short while in Boston last night, we were ecstatic. We beat the privatizers on Question 2, and we beat them across the state, with every demographic – except for the whitest, wealthiest towns. As Barbara Madeloni said from the stage at campaign headquarters, “We beat their money with our democracy.”

Our coalition victory against the privatizers was hard-earned and sweet. Our brave and beautiful young people were inspirational. Barbara Madeloni was electrifying. We were the righteous students, parents, and union members.

And then, as the national results started coming in and it became clear that Clinton was in trouble, DFER was spotted in the back of the hotel ballroom. As was Marty Walz, former state legislator-turned-paid-shill for the charter industry.

Some of us – those who’d been door-knocking, who had made calls, created charts, sent tweets, educated our neighbors, debated on stage – became angry. The Yes on 2 campaign, funded by so-called Democrats with zero history of being on the side of working people and the disenfranchised, had forced us to focus on a state measure, for months and months and months, at the exclusion of the presidential campaign. Not a single one of my comrades working themselves to exhaustion – unpaid – to defeat the ballot measure was also volunteering for Hilary. We couldn’t be in two places at once, and we rightly felt the urgency of defeating Question 2. We were also keenly aware that our colleagues in other parts of the country were counting on us to stop the charter tide in Massachusetts.

DFER and Marty Walz heard from us loud and clear last night. We let them know that their support for an expensive, divisive, diversionary campaign will not be forgotten.

Question 2 and the charlatans behind it went down in flames last night. Our bright spot on this dismal morning.

Voters in Massachusetts rejected Question 2, which would have authorized a dozen new charter schools every year. The margin, at last word, was 62-38%.

Voters in Georgia rejected Amendment 1, which would have allowed the Governor to take over low-scoring schools and put them in an “Opportunity School District,” a district of charter schools, whether for-profit or non-profit. Georgians apparently didn’t like the idea of abolishing local control of their schools. The vote was similar to Massachusetts, 60-40%. Voters were not fooled by the deceptive language.

Voters in Washington State re-elected the Supreme Court judges who declared that charter schools are not public schools, rejecting the judges supported by Bill Gates.

Our fight for public education continues. Now, with Donald Trump as President, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) works in our favor. He will turn over federal funds to the states without strings, and we will fight in every state to make sure that those funds are allocated to provide a better education for all children. From the results in Massachusetts and Georgia, we know that the majority is on the side of public schools.

We will win some, we will lose some, but we won’t give up. We will do what is right for children. We will defend teachers and the teaching profession. We will defend democratically-controlled public education. We will protect the public good.

Do not despair. Join the Network for Public Education. Plan to join us next October in Oakland, California, and help us plan for the future.

*PS: Wendy Lecker, civil rights lawyer, points out in the comments that voters in Kansas retained all the judges who ruled in favor of full funding for public schools, rebuffing Governor Brownback.
http://kcur.org/post/all-kansas-supreme-court-justices-retained

All the Presidential polls were wrong. Clinton appeared to be headed for a big victory until FBI Director James Comey informed Congress that he had discovered a new trove of emails. He decided there was no problem on the Sunday before the election. I can’t help but think that she was never able to revive the momentum after Comey’s intervention. And so we have a President-elect who has never held public office, has no governmental experience, has made statements that are racist, misogynist, andxenophobic. His party will control Congress. He will select at least one and possibly two or three Supreme Court justices.

On the subject of education, he has shown little interest. He held one press conference at a for-profit charter school in Ohio and promised $20 billion in federal funds for charters and vouchers, transferred from existing programs. He has shown no interest in public education.

But there is a piece of good news in the midst of a dark night for public education.

Voters in Massachusetts overwhelmingly defeated Question 2, by a margin of about 62%-38%. Question 2 would have permitted the addition of 12 charter schools every year into the indefinite future.

A vibrant coalition of parents, educators, and students withstood a barrage of dark money and won. They organized, mobilized, knocked on doors, rallied, and they won. More than 200 school committees passed resolutions against Question 2. None supported it.

The bottom line that unified opponents of the measure was that charters would drain funding from the public schools.

Proponents spent at least $22 million, most of it from out of state donors. Big givers were billionaires and hedge fund managers.

This was the first contest over charter schools in which the key issues became public: the billionaire funding from out of state; the deceptive advertising that flooded the airwaves; the opponents’ recognition that the charter movement was an assault on public schools, an effort to privatize them.

On a sad night for the nation, it is heartening to see that the people defended their public schools…and won.

Andrea Gabor posted today an update on the Dark Money behind Question 2 in Massachusetts.

UPDATE: How Long-Time Charter Funders Are Upping the Ante in Their Bid to Blow the Bay State’s Charter School Cap

She begins:

“On October 24, I posted the story below about dark money–much of it from out-of-state–flowing into Massachusetts to support a “yes” vote on a pro-charter-school ballot question known as Question 2. In the days just before the election, those funds have increased dramatically, making Question 2 the most expensive charter-school ballot initiative in the country, ever. In Massachusetts, which has the most highly rated public schools in the nation, more has been spent by proponents of Ballot 2 than both sides spent on any other ballot initiative in state history, and more dark money has flowed to the initiative than to any state or federal election. Here are the latest totals via Peggy Wiesenberg, attorney, activist and public-school parent who did the analysis for the original post:

—Families for Excellent Schools, $15.6 million

—Other dark-money donors $2 million

–Hedge fund and other investment managers $1.9 million

–Jim and Alice Walton $1.8 million

–Other donors, $1.3 million, including a total $490,000 from Michael Bloomberg

By contrast, union spending in opposition to Question 2, was about $11 million.”

The people of Massachusetts will decide tomorrow who owns their public schools.

Here is the latest poll on Question 2 in Massachusetts, whether to expand the number of charters by 12 a year indefinitely. See page 11.

Question 2 is losing in every demographic category except older Republicans.

Whites and blacks oppose Question 2 by similar proportions.

Younger voters (ages 18-39) overwhelmingly oppose it, by 71-21.

If the trends hold, this will be a massive and humiliating defeat for the corporate reformers, who have spent more on this election (at least $22 million) than on any education referendum anywhere. They won’t miss the $22 million, but they will have sustained a major setback in their plans for privatization.

A veteran educator explains why she will vote NO ON Question 2.

My background and position as a high school administrator have led people to ask me about Question 2, the ballot proposal that would allow expansion of Massachusetts charter schools. I have been around public education my entire life. My father was a Superintendent of Schools in Pittsfield, Brockton, and Weston. My husband taught English at Brockton High School for almost 40 years. I was a practicing attorney for 25 years, changed careers, and am now the very proud principal of Falmouth High School, which my own three children have attended.

With that as a backdrop, I remain baffled as to how charter schools are considered public schools, and how they can take taxpayer money to run smoke and mirrors operations.

I do not pretend to know all charter schools in the Commonwealth, but I do know the one in Hyannis, Sturgis Charter School, which has garnered not only local, but national recognition as a tip top so-called “public” high school.

This is where I get confused. I would like someone to explain how charter schools are “public” schools when the one in my neck of the woods allows for the following:

• None of its teachers are required to be licensed by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) which oversees all of the state’s public schools, and mandates licensure of public school teachers.

• Its teachers are not subjected to the same public school educator evaluation regulations (603 CMR 35.00) that every other public school teacher is bound by (http://www.doe.mass.edu/news/news.aspx?id=8004).

• Although it claims to admit students by public lottery, it gives applicants priority status if they have a sibling attending the school, it reviews discipline records of applicants before deciding to admit them, and it outright refuses to admit students in grades 11 and 12.

The Sturgis website proudly proclaims that given its lottery admissions process, “All students who wish to attend . . . have an equal chance of getting in.” How is this possible when the enrollment policy clearly states that the number one priority for admission is whether an applicant has a sibling who attends the school? And Sturgis gets to exclude students who want to apply in grades 11 and 12? What other public high school gets to do that?

Moreover, despite the statement on its website that Sturgis “is a tuition-free, public high school [see footnote below] that accepts students through public lottery regardless of past academic records,” Sturgis nevertheless exercises discretion to condition admission upon the review of an applicant’s discipline record. That is some lottery. Indeed, I thought “lottery” meant everyone who plays has an equal chance of winning.

The Sturgis brand of lottery sure sounds more like a stacked deck than a lottery.

Sturgis is a top “public” high school that is not required to follow any of the hiring, licensing, educator evaluation, and admissions practices required of every other public high school in Massachusetts.

And Sturgis is run by a principal, excuse me, an “Executive Director,” who touts the school’s high MCAS scores – why wouldn’t he when the scores are statistically skewed due to cherry-picked students?

Indeed, according to the most recently available DESE data, Sturgis has ZERO English Language Learner students, has almost half the number of High Needs and Economically Disadvantaged students as Falmouth High School, and doled out discipline to just 12 students in the 2014-2015 school year.

I am proud of what we do at Falmouth High School, where we have been able to maintain our Level 1 status for several years now without having to resort to elitist and exclusionary admission practices. Falmouth High School students are regularly awarded top prizes in state science, history, math, foreign language, writing, music, and art competitions.

We have AP Scholars and National Merit Scholars, and our athletic teams can boast regional, state, and even national titles. Falmouth High School students have been admitted to Harvard, Yale, Brown, Middlebury, Amherst, Wellesley, Smith, MIT, Williams, Columbia, University of Chicago, the Air Force Academy, Northwestern, and a slew of other top tier colleges and universities. According to its own 2015-2016 school profile, from 2002 to 2015, it appears not a single Sturgis graduate had been accepted to Harvard or Yale — http://www.sturgischarterschool.com/documents/ProfileWest.pdf — nor to Williams, Amherst, Wellesley, or Middlebury, the top four liberal arts colleges in the country.

In its 2016-2017 school profile, Harvard was finally added to the list — http://www.sturgischarterschool.com/documents/2016ProfileEast.pdf. Nevertheless, hidden deep within the Sturgis website is a veiled warning that colleges do not always look so kindly on the school’s International Baccalaureate Programme (http://www.sturgischarterschool.org/guidance/IBCollege.html). So it runs a “Programme” with two “m’s” and an “e” at the end, that despite its fancy, pretentious sounding name, may hinder a student’s ability to enter a top college? I’d like to see that disclaimer on the website of any real public high school.

But what is most important, most impressive, is that Falmouth High School is a public school where nobody is turned away. Nobody. We don’t have the right to exclude anyone, and we don’t want that right — because we are a public school. We take every child, whatever his status or ability, and still we retain our Level 1 standing and our sense of dignity. This is what real public schools do, all of them.

As a taxpayer, I am outraged.

As a school administrator, I am angered that not only must we fight for every dollar, but we must fight to keep families from being bamboozled by so-called “public” charter schools. It is nose-on-the-face plain that charter schools are not public schools. Real public schools do not participate in elitist and exclusionary admissions practices that are axiomatically antithetical to the meaning of public education. Go ahead and let charters do what they want, but let’s stop pretending they are public schools, and let’s stop funding them as such. Please vote no on Question 2.

Mary Whalen Gans, J.D., M.Ed.

footnote: Why the need to proclaim that it is a “tuition-free public high school”? What public high school charges tuition? Is it that Sturgis is trying to connote that it’s giving something of great quality that you’d otherwise have to pay for in the private sector? Ridiculous….