Save Our Public Schools (April/May 2016)
The United States of America was the first major country to support universal free public education. Within the USA Massachusetts, led by Horace Mann’s fervent advocacy, became the national leader. The first public school in the USA was in Boston.. Free public education now exists in all fifty states.
Public education is one of the bulwarks of American democracy.
However, threats to public education are widespread. One of the major threats is the sustained attempt to underfund public education. Of course, when it is underfunded, the challenge to educate our students at the level to which they are entitled is overwhelming. Then the underfunder assert that public education is failing to educate the students. Then they claim we must find alternatives.
One such alternative is charter schools. Although the law declares them to be public schools, in reality they operate as private schools. Look at some, and these are only some, of the following differences between them and the regular public schools:
1. Public school teachers need to be licensed. Charter school teachers need not be.
2. Public schools must accept all students. We gladly do so. Charter schools have far fewer special needs students with significant disabilities and English language learner students who have much progress to make before they are fluent in English. In the regular public schools there are English language learners who are not fluent, some even illiterate, in their native language. The regular public schools gladly accept all these students.
3. In some charter schools the dropout rate is very substantial. Where do these students go? To the regular public schools.
In Massachusetts for every 96 students in the regular public schools, four are in the charter schools. The financial impact on the regular public schools is devastating, particularly in urban areas where the number of students living in poverty is very high and where most of the charter schools exist. The regular public schools lose hundreds of millions of dollars because their budgets must fund charter schools.
Now the charter school proponents are attempting to place on the ballot in 2016 an initiative petition to raise the statewide cap on charter schools. Currently state law places a cap on charter schools both statewide and in the cities and towns. In fact, two years ago the Massachusetts State Senate said enough and rejected by a vote of 26 to 13 an attempt to raise the charter school cap.
The Massachusetts Education Justice Coalition (MEJA), composed of parents, students, Citizens for Public Schools, the MA Teachers Association, the AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers Massachusetts, (AFT MA), a number of AFT MA locals, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is leading the effort to save public schools by defeating this initiative petition. AFT MA is an active and proud member of MEJA.
What can all of us do to save our public schools and to defeat this initiative petition? Here are some suggestions:
1. As the campaign develops to defect the initiative petition, all of us will have opportunities to be involved. Grassroots participation is essential. We’ll keep you informed.
2. Educate family and friends about what is at stake. AFT MA can provide you with helpful information.
3. If you belong to organizations that have a connection to or an interest in public education, get on the agenda. AFT MA can provide you with helpful information.
The competition for the voters’ hearts and minds will be intense. The charter school proponents have publicly stated that they are prepared to spend 18 Million dollars to get this initiative petition passed. 18 Million dollars is a mighty challenge, but we shall not be deterred.
AFT MA will be an outspoken and articulate advocate, in conjunction with MEJA and all of you, in the campaign to save our public schools.
If you have questions or comments, you email firstname.lastname@example.org.