MTA calls for charter school moratorium and reforms

The Massachusetts Teachers Association today joined other public education supporters in testifying in favor of bills to reform the charter school funding and governance structures, arguing that the current system "hurts the quality of education provided to children whose parents choose to send them to the regular public schools."

MTA President Catherine A. Boudreau submitted her testimony to the Joint Committee on Education during a public hearing at the State House.

"Contrary to what charter school advocates say, the funding formula was certainly not 'fixed' last session," Boudreau said. "In fact, one of the major changes actually benefits charter schools at the continued expense of our regular public school districts."

When a charter school opens in a community, the loss of funds affects the majority of children who remain in the existing public schools. Those schools lose substantial resources and are often forced to eliminate innovative programs and charge parents higher fees.

The MTA supports, H.B. 1131, a bill that would model charter school funding on the inter-district choice formula. The legislation would limit the loss of funds from the sending district to $5,000 per student, with any additional funding for the charter school paid by the state.

The MTA also opposes the current charter school approval process, under which the state may approve opening a charter school in a community even if a large majority of the residents, taxpayers and elected officials in that community object.

"We support Senate Bill 300, which is intended to ensure that charter schools are beneficial -- and not detrimental -- to the district public schools from which they draw their students," Boudreau testified.

Boudreau spoke in favor of a moratorium on new charter schools (included in H.B. 1195 and S.B. 348) and against H.B. 1055 and S.B. 317, both of which would raise the current cap on the amount of money that can be diverted from district public schools based on MCAS scores.

Boudreau noted that H.B. 1055 and S.B. 317 would do far more harm than good, since most of the schools with low MCAS scores serve a high percentage of low-income, special needs and limited English proficient students, all of whom need more resources to succeed. The Massachusetts Department of Education has confirmed that, on average, charter schools enroll a much smaller percentage of such students than their sending districts, so expanding charter schools in those areas will simply leave the regular public schools with needier students and fewer resources with which to educate them.

"Lifting the cap on charter schools will simply widen the gap between the educational 'haves' and 'have nots,'" Boudreau said. "This is the wrong direction in which to head at a time when closing the gap should be our top priority."

"A moratorium would not affect any existing charter schools, but would freeze enrollment at current levels, until real, substantive changes are made to the funding formula, approval process and governance of the schools that make up this experimental program," Boudreau concluded.