Mass. Democrats Vote To Oppose Charter School Question

The Massachusetts Democratic Party on Tuesday night voted to oppose a ballot question that would expand charter schools in Massachusetts, putting the party at odds with some of its members in the Legislature.

"Our local communities cannot afford to lose even more money to charter schools," said former Rep. Carol Donovan, a Democratic State Committee member from Woburn, in a statement. "Already, cities and towns forced to make budget cuts every year due to the state’s underfunding of education and the money lost to charters. If this ballot question passes, it will create budget crises in hundreds of Massachusetts communities, and hurt the students who remain in our local district public schools."

The party's firm position differs from the verdict of Democrats who run the Legislature. Legislative leaders were unable to broker a charter school compromise and have left the issue for voters to settle.

Sen. Michael Rodrigues, a Westport Democrat, and Rep. Frank Moran, a Lawrence Democrat, have both taken on prominent roles backing passage of Question 2, which would allow up to 12 new charter schools or charter expansions in Massachusetts annually regardless of a statutory cap.

The Senate this year passed "The Rise Act," tying charter cap increases to additional investment in local education, at an estimated cost of $203 million to $212 million for seven years.

The bill was viewed by critics who noted the lack of dedicated funding in the bill, which they described as placing on unfeasible burden on increasing access to a form of public education that operates outside the control of local school committees.

Rather than seek compromise with the Senate, House leaders abandoned hope of a legislative solution, allowing the question to be decided by voters on Nov. 8.

Mara Dolan, communications director for Senate President Stanley Rosenberg, entered the fray early Wednesday morning, writing on Twitter, "This just in: Democrats in Massachusetts turn out to be real Democrats after all, vote to oppose increasing charter schools."

Liam Kerr, Massachusetts state director of Democrats for Education Reform, which supports expanding access to charters, found Dolan's comment laugh-provoking, writing, "LOL people who thought RISE Act was good faith effort."

Gov. Charlie Baker and other Massachusetts Republicans back the ballot question and other means of expanding alternatives to the traditional district-led schooling, arguing it allows for experimentation and oftentimes better education.

Many Democrats oppose expanding charter school access, arguing that it saps money from school districts — as dollars eventually follow students to charters — and subverts local control of school committees.

Democrats for Education Reform sponsored two of the breakfast events Massachusetts Democrats held at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, as Politico Massachusetts reported at the time.

Massachusetts Democratic Party Chairman Tom McGee, who is a senator from Lynn, opposes increases to the cap on charter schools and told the News Service in Philadelphia that the sponsorship did not reflect the party's position.

"It's not indicative of any reflection of what the position of the party would be," McGee said, noting breakfasts had been sponsored by corporations such as AT&T and National Grid. McGee said breakfast event sponsorships cost in the range of $2,500 to $5,000 and noted sponsors have the opportunity to address the crowd for a couple minutes.

Acknowledging there is a "different perspective," McGee told the News Service, "I personally and particularly in the Senate have supported keeping the cap in place."

Juan Cofield, president of the president of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP and chairman of the campaign opposing Question 2, praised the position taken by the Democratic party.

"They join more than 70 local communities and a broad coalition of families, parents, educators, students, and local leaders who understand that Question 2 is bad for our schools," Cofield said in a statement sent out by the Campaign to Save Our Public Schools, which also reported the party vote.

After the Senate voted down a charter school bill in 2014, charter school advocates launched a ballot campaign last year, collecting tens of thousands of signatures to put the question before voters.


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