By Jillian Poland
I attended school within my public district from kindergarten to sixth grade, and I was not happy. Textbook readings and worksheets carried my lessons in one ear and right out the other. Nothing seemed to stick. I was restless and bored.
So, my parents decided to send me to the same charter school they had sent my sister to four years before. There were no traditional textbooks. Each class was organized around activity-based learning and lessons were coordinated across all the academic domains.
Within a few months, I was thriving in my new school, learning more than I ever had and actually enjoying the process.
I attended that school for six years, and I have never once regretted it.
Those who oppose Question 2 offer two main concerns about charter schools. The first is monetary. People claim that charter schools are sucking money from the traditional public schools. In Massachusetts, it has always been the policy that educational dollars follow the student. If a student leaves their local school district for a charter school, their educational dollars will be sent to the charter school.
This is also the case with the inter-district school choice program and with the vocational technical education program, along with a few other choice-oriented education options the state provides.
However, charter schools are the only option for which the school district is actually compensated by the state for some of the lost educational dollars. If students choose to leave their local school district, leaving for a charter school would be most beneficial to the local district.
Charter schools are also not, as some would claim, overfunded. A recent survey from the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, a nonpartisan public policy group with a focus on Massachusetts, found in fiscal year 2016, that 3.9 percent of Massachusetts students attended charter schools and 3.9 percent of public school funds went to charter schools. There was no disparity.
The second main concern is the ability of charter schools to educate students properly. While in some states regulation can be weak, Massachusetts’s standards for charter schools are firm. In Massachusetts, charter schools are considered public schools, but they operate independently of the local school districts.
Each school is governed by a board of trustees. The board of trustees must apply for a charter directly from the state department of education, which has a staff that evaluates each school by strictly regulated standards, supports the opening of the school and holds the school accountable for student academic performance.
If the school does not demonstrate good results within five years, it risks losing the charter. Under the proposed law, an additional yearly review of each school would be completed. The state will not allow charter schools to operate if it believes them to be inadequate.
Once misconceptions on funding and the quality of the schools are dismissed, the main reason for opening more charter schools is simple – choice. Massachusetts has always valued student and family choices in education, and that is why there are so many options. But currently, 33,903 students are on waiting lists for charter schools, according to the education department. There is just not enough space within existing schools – and not enough schools – to accommodate all these students.
I was lucky, because the charter school I attended was close to my home and my mother’s work schedule allowed her to drive me there every day. But some students are not. If their home is too far from a charter or another regional school, parents’ jobs and family circumstances can prevent their enrollment and limit their choices.
The addition of more charter schools, especially in low-performing districts, would provide more opportunities for students who are not learning or cannot learn within their local school district.