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MTA opposes new charter school applications

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Jan. 21, 2003
CONTACT: Laura Barrett or Bob Duffy, MTA Communications, 617-878-8265

Describing the establishment of new charter schools in the midst of a fiscal crisis as "reckless and irresponsible," the state's largest teachers' union is submitting testimony today in opposition to the approval of any of the 11 new charter school applications.

Neil Clarke, a middle school mathematics teacher in Lee and a member of the MTA's executive committee, is scheduled to testify against the charter school proposals at the Department of Education's hearing at the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield this afternoon.

Below are excerpts from Clarke's testimony on behalf of the MTA.

"The timing of these applications could not be worse. As you know, this state is in a severe fiscal crisis. The governor plans to make large cuts in local aid in the current fiscal year, and budget analysts estimate there will be a $2.2 billion deficit in the next fiscal year. As a result, it is virtually certain that school budgets will be slashed, teachers will be laid off, class sizes will increase and innovative new programs will be abolished.

"In this climate, it would be adding insult to injury to establish a new Commonwealth Charter School in North Adams or in other hard-pressed communities around the state. To take money, resources and experienced staff away from the schools that need them the most is lunacy.

"The state must take care of its legal and moral obligations to the vast majority of the school children in this state before spending money on questionable and experimental new schools that serve only a small fraction of the children.

"If the Board of Education accepts these charter school applications, it will be condemning children who attend the regular public schools in those communities to an inferior education -- and this at a time when the state is demanding ever greater achievement from students.

"Even in the best of times, we believe the state should shoulder the lion's share of the costs of Commonwealth Charter Schools. After all, these schools are approved by the state and are accountable to the state, not to the local communities that are required to fund them.

"Just as the state is experiencing a fiscal crisis, so are cities and towns. Just as the state cannot afford the high cost of new Commonwealth Charter Schools, neither can municipalities. To foist charter schools on districts that do not want and cannot afford them is reckless and irresponsible. We urge you to reject these applications."

The MTA is supporting legislation filed by Rep. Thomas O'Brien (D-Kingston) that would place a three-year moratorium on the establishment of new Commonwealth Charter Schools.