By Jim Stergios
Originally published in The Boston Herald on July 18, 2014
The Massachusetts Senate prides itself on being the more progressive of our two legislative branches. By voting not to increase access to high-quality schools in Boston and other Massachusetts cities, they have shown themselves to be anything but.
The defeated Senate bill, sponsored by Education Committee Chairwoman Sonia Chang-Diaz, was nothing to brag about from the start. Its eye-dropper approach would have increased the number of charter seats in low-performing urban districts a miserly maximum of 1 percent per year.
Moreover, Chang-Diaz loaded her bill with enough poison pills to constitute malpractice on these innovative schools and the families of 15,000 schoolchildren on Boston charter schools’ waiting lists.
Two poison pills stand out. The first would have made charter public schools pay half the transportation costs caused by the longer school days and school years they provide. No other public school is forced to pay extra for transportation.
Talk about disincentives to excellence.
Chang-Diaz’s second poison pill linked the higher cap to full funding of the state’s generous reimbursement schedule for “phantom” students — districts are reimbursed for six years after a student leaves.
Given that Gov. Deval Patrick just signed the fiscal 2015 state budget, which included $80 million instead of the $110 million to fully fund the six-year district reimbursements, the senator’s second poison pill essentially would have placed a moratorium on new charter seats.
The obfuscations and lies during Wednesday’s floor debate demonstrated that the Senate is far more interested in pleasing the forces of the status quo — teachers unions — than in helping largely minority schoolchildren who are better served by charter schools.
Stunningly, some senators questioned charter school performance. A 2013 Stanford University study found that Boston charter schools do more to close the achievement gap than any other group of public schools in the country. Statewide, charter schools serving primarily low-income students came within two points of closing the 20-point wealth-based achievement gap on 2013 MCAS tests.
In 2012, 20 charter schools, including many urban charters topped even affluent suburban schools on a number of tests.
The Senate should have done its job and upheld the state’s constitutional call to “cherish” education for all Massachusetts children. Chang-Diaz should have represented the interests of her constituents and given more of the 15,000 Boston kids on waitlists access to a high-quality charter school.
That’s not what happened. The Massachusetts Senate proved to be as progressive as old Southern Democrats blocking the schoolhouse door in a desperate attempt to preserve a repugnant status quo.
Jim Stergios is executive director of Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank.