By Senator Patricia Jehlen (D- Somerville) and Senator Ken Donnelly (D- Arlington)
(The opinions and views expressed in the commentaries of The Somerville Times belong solely to the authors of those commentaries and do not reflect the views or opinions of The Somerville Times, its staff or publishers)
Last week, the senate voted to defeat a bill that proposed to raise the current cap on charter schools in 29 districts. Beginning in 2017 the cap would rise from 18% to 23% of those school districts’ spending.
Before the vote, we heard from parents, advocates, students, and organizations on both sides of the argument. We sat down with whoever was willing to talk about the bill and what it would mean for students in the Commonwealth and the future of our public education system.
We went into all of these conversations with the goal of answering one essential question: what is our end game in expanding charter schools?
In 1993 when the Massachusetts Legislature voted to create charter schools, the intent was that charters would experiment with new practices for educating our children. Originally, it was intended to take the successful practices developed by charter schools and use them in the district public schools.
Today, charter schools are promoted not as collaborators with public schools, but as competitors in a marketplace where test scores take the place of profits. In this market, there are rewards for schools that can avoid students who are likely to score low. That was never the intent.
If we keep raising the cap on charter schools, more district schools will go out of business, concentrating students who face the biggest challenges in a shrinking number of district schools while extra resources go to the charters.
We will be driving a wedge deep into our communities, pitting students against each other, and effectively declaring that it is acceptable to invest in some kids while divesting from others.
That is not the answer. And that is why we believe this bill, and this issue, cannot move forward without addressing the serious implications that a dual system of public education will have on our children for generations to come.
The bill that we debated undoubtedly has merit, not least because it has sparked the important conversation about innovative ways to make charter schools more inclusive while providing funding for district public schools. But the proposed cap lift would not begin to take effect for 3 more years. Let us not make hasty choices.
Let us instead step back and consider how we can incorporate the best ideas from all schools to educate all of our children, not only to score high on standardized tests, but to develop into responsible and capable adults, ready to take their places in a complex world.
Let’s keep our eyes on 100 percent of our students, not 18, or 19, or 23 percent of them.