Massachusetts’ Voters Strike Down Question 2

“Yes on 2” and “No on 2” signs in front of Jackson Mann Elementary School

Elijah Greene is a fourth grader at William Monroe Trotter Innovation School in Dorchester, MA. Greene has always been passionate about music and the arts but the music department at his public school is one of the several things he and his mom Judi Orloff dislike about it. Due to the negative experience Orloff and her son have had with the Boston Public School system, she voted yes on Massachusetts’ Ballot question 2 yesterday.

Voters struck down the proposal, which would’ve allowed for up to 12 new charter schools or enrollment expansions of existing charter schools to be approved each year.

“Yes on 2” supporters gathered in front of Jackson Mann Elementary School yesterday donning Yes on 2 apparel and carrying signs to inform voters about the benefits of lifting the cap on the number of charter schools.

“Yes on 2” protestors talking to voters

Louise Carbery, a Boston University student in the College of Arts and Sciences and an advocate for the proposal, talked about the advantages of charter schools.

“The most successful [charter schools], the ones that we allow to apply for and gain their licensing are high-performance high stakes charter schools, which means that a lot of these have longer school days and full day kindergarten which is a big thing for parents who work,” Carbery said. “They make sure that students are accountable, making sure that they have a ride to school everyday, making sure they have transportation, making sure that they’re getting fed at school [etc.]”

Opponents of the proposal argue that investing more into charter schools will have negative impacts on students at public schools. Dr. Hardin Coleman, dean of the School of Education at Boston University, discussed the negative financial implications of increasing the number of charter schools in districts.

“Increasing charter seats takes dollars away from the public school and increases their expenses.  Since Charter schools started in Boston, the census in the Boston Public Schools has only dropped by 1000 students which can be explained by the drop in the birth rate rather than the rise in Charter School enrollment,” Hardin said. “BPS pays for the transportation of charter school students and charter schools get the same reimbursement per student that BPS does without the transportation cost or serving as many high needs students as does BPS.”

For Orloff and her son, though, more access to charter schools would help tremendously. BPS uses a Home-Based school assignment plan for students in kindergarten through 8th grade that gives each student a list of schools they are eligible to attend based on where they live. After given this list, students rank the schools in order of preference. Greene ranked his top 5 schools, none of which were Trotter. After not being selected to attend any of his top choices, he was placed on a waitlist for them.

“The BPS experience has been a nightmare of confusion,” Orloff said in a Facebook message. “My son has taken a few steps back compared to his school enthusiasm up to this year.”

Among their concerns, were the fact that Greene has to catch the bus to Trotter at 6:30 a.m. at a bus stop located a half-mile away, out of control classes, a cement courtyard for recess, limited recess time or recess time being rescinded, teachers not having enough time to pay attention to students, and constant bullying.

Greene doesn’t enjoy his music class because his peers are rambunctious and often break the instruments.

“I feel very distracted there,” Greene said, “and I hate the music department which has always been my passion.”

Orloff says that her son is very responsible in the classroom and she believes that a different style of education could help him. If it weren’t for long waitlists and only limited charter school options nearby, Greene would be attending a charter school instead.

Others think the state should focus on improving public schools before creating more charter schools.

Katie Mondou Page, a second grade teacher and parent in the Lowell Public Schools System with over 26 years of teaching experience, voted no on question 2.

“I am voting no because it takes money from many children to fund a privately run school. The private board has no accountability to the districts it serves,” Page said in a Facebook message. “The district’s school committees, which are elected by the public, have no input into the running or day to day operations of charter schools.”

Page also said that many charter schools claim to be inclusive of all students but several parents came to LPS with stories of how their children were asked to leave charter schools due to behavioral issues.

In contrast, Page describes her school, Peter W. Reilly School as “a huge school with five classes in grades k-5 as well as 2 substantially separate classes serving children with emotional and behavioral disabilities.”

This ballot question has garnered a lot of attention and controversy. Like residents, the Massachusetts government was torn with Governor Charlie Baker being one of the bills biggest proponents and Senator Elizabeth Warren and Mayor Martin J. Walsh opposing it. Both Baker and Walsh have voiced their thoughts in ad campaigns for and against the measure.

A study conducted on Massachusetts charter schools by the Harvard Graduate School states that many charter schools in Massachusetts are achieving at rates that are large enough to close achievement gaps by race and gender over time while a BPS study details how Boston has lost $48 million due to underfunding of the Charter School Reimbursement which is how the state reimburses school districts for the amount of tuition the districts pay based on how many students who live in the district attend charter schools.

After the measure was rejected by a vote of 62 percent to 37 percent, Gov. Baker echoed his pride in what supporters accomplished in spite of the loss in a statement last night.

“I am proud to have joined with thousands of parents, teachers and education reformers in a worthwhile campaign to provide more education choices for students stuck in struggling districts, and while Question 2 was not successful, the importance of that goal is unchanged,” Baker said. “I am proud that our administration has made historic investments in our public schools, expanded support for vocational schools and proposed new solutions to make college more affordable. I look forward to working closely with all stakeholders toward our common goal to ensure a great education for every child in Massachusetts, regardless of their zip code.”