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"Grassroots opposition to Question 2, which would greatly increase the number of charter schools in Massachusetts, has been building for months." (Photo: Save Our Public Schools)

Despite Millions in Dark Money, Pro-Charter Effort Falters in Massachusetts

Opposition grows against 'reckless charter school ballot question'

Deirdre Fulton

The corporate-backed effort to expand charter schools in Massachusetts is opposed by likely voters in that state, according to a new poll released Tuesday.

The WBUR poll, conducted Sept. 7-10 by The MassINC Polling Group, found 48 percent of respondents opposed to Question 2—which would allow up to 12 new charter schools a year statewide—and 41 percent in favor. Eleven percent of respondents said they were undecided. 

Money has been flowing into what the Boston Globe says "could be the most expensive ballot campaign in state history," with supporters of the proposal having raised roughly $12 million, almost double their opponents.

As WBUR reports:

Nearly $6 million in support of expanding charter schools has come from a New York group called Families for Excellent Schools Advocacy, a so-called "dark money" group that does not have to disclose its donors.

Among the other large contributors is Walmart heiress Alice Walton, who made a $710,000 donation this summer.

Indeed, teacher and blogger Mercedes Schneider further revealed in a post this weekend that "[t]he Waltons are not the only out-of-state billionaires using their wealth to influence the charter cap in a state in which they do not reside." According to the September 9 filing of the Question 2 ballot committee, she wrote, Houston billionaire John Arnold and former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg have each contributed more than $240,000 to the campaign.

Meanwhile, the Globe noted on Tuesday that while most of the pro-charter money "came from out-of-state sources," Boston's business leaders have also been opening up their checkbooks in support of the initiative. 

The November ballot measure (pdf) would lift the charter cap that's currently in place and "add to the $408 million that charter schools already divert from district schools," as the grassroots organization Citizens for Public Schools says on its website. 

Indeed, "[t]he amount of money lost will grow: $100 million more the first year, more than $200 million the next year, more than $300 million the year after that, crippling our school system with every passing year," according to the leading opposition group, Save Our Public Schools.

As commentator John Walsh wrote at Commonwealth in August:

Grassroots opposition to Question 2, which would greatly increase the number of charter schools in Massachusetts, has been building for months. So far, more than 80 elected school committees and city councils have voted to oppose Question 2. So have the Massachusetts Parent Teacher Association and the Massachusetts Municipal Association. Dozens of mayors and other local officials are against passage of Question 2. Even Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a longtime charter supporter who formerly sat on the board of a charter school, opposes Question 2 because of the irreversible harm it would do to the Boston Public Schools. More and more charter supporters recognize that Question 2 is the wrong solution because it would allow indefinite expansion each year of charter schools, which local government has no say in approving.

This week, the No on Question 2 campaign called for the resignation of Paul Sagan, chairman of the state education board that approves and oversees charter schools in Massachusetts, after it was revealed that he donated $100,000 to the pro-charter effort.

"This reckless charter school ballot question sets no limits on the amount of money that Sagan and his board could unilaterally take from neighborhood public schools anywhere in the state," said Juan Cofield, president of the New England Area Conference of the NAACP and chair of the Campaign to Save Our Public Schools. "This is a blatant power grab by a wealthy individual who wants to control billions of dollars in state and local education funds."

Several Boston-based news and educational institutions hosted a debate on Question 2 on Tuesday afternoon, with former state representative Marty Walz, currently head of Marty Walz and Associates, speaking in favor and Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson arguing against the measure.

Watch below:

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