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Public Education at Stake With Mass. Voters to Decide on Pro-Charter School Measure

"Wall Street must not be allowed to hijack public education in Massachusetts," said Sen. Sanders

Massachusetts voters will decide the fate of Question 2, which would allow up to 12 new charter schools per year. (Photo: Save Our Public Schools)

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has weighed in on the most expensive statewide ballot measure voters will face November 8—Massachusetts' Question 2, which would lift the existing cap and allow for as many as 12 new charter schools per year.

Referring to the financial industry's backing of Question 2, the former presidential candidate said in a statement Tuesday, "Wall Street must not be allowed to hijack public education in Massachusetts."

"This is Wall Street's attempt to line their own pockets while draining resources away from public education at the expense of low-income, special education students and English language learners," he continued.

Indeed, the International Business Times and MapLight published last week the results of their investigation which found "that executives at eight financial firms with contracts to manage Massachusetts state pension assets have bypassed anti-corruption rules and funneled at least $778,000 to groups backing Question 2, which would expand the number of charter schools in the state. Millions more dollars have flowed from the executives to nonprofit groups supporting the charter school movement in the lead-up to the November vote."

Further, WBUR reported Sunday that while the no side "is almost entirely funded by national and local teachers' unions," over 80 percent of the contributions flowing to the yes side have come from so-called "dark money."

Foremost among those is Families for Excellent Schools, a controversial New York group whose donation total has surpassed $13.5 million so far—and keeps rising.

But other out-of-state cash comes from familiar names in support of charters, including $1.8 million from Walmart heirs Jim and Alice Walton, $240,000 from former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and $250,000 from John D. Arnold, a Texas-based billionaire and philanthropist.

While polling last month showed the no on 2 side ahead, a Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll conducted Oct. 24-Oct. 26 showed voters equally divided —45.4 percent to 45.4 percent.

More on the Referedum in Massachusetts

Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has already vocalized her opposition to the measure, expressing concern over what "this specific proposal means for hundreds of thousands of children across our Commonwealth, especially those living in districts with tight budgets where every dime matters. Education is about creating opportunity for all our children, not about leaving many behind."

That speaks to concerns of many charter school opponents—that they cherry-pick students, foster segregated schools, exclude children with disabilities, and others who may "jeopardize the academic profile of the school."

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Proponents, meanwhile, have argued that it will help "failing public schools" and offer parents a "choice." Among them is Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, who has gone "all-in"  to stump for the pro-charter measure.

According to education historian Diane Ravitch, the state is "ground zero of the charter fraud." Question 2 proponents, she wrote, are engaging in a "misleading, dishonest campaign" because "They do not explain that passage of Question 2 means that neighborhood public schools will be closed and replaced by corporate-controlled charter schools. They do not explain that more money for charter schools means less money for public schools. They do not explain that those who vote for Question 2 are voting to cut the budgets of their own public schools."

Recognizing such threats, 30 mayors in the state have come out against it, including Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty, who said the $24.5 million his city will spend on charter schools "is money that could be used to hire more teachers, improve our facilities, and invest in our students."

According to the latest count, over 200 school communities have come out against lifting the charter school cap. And support from this sector makes sense, wrote Ravitch, as "The school boards recognize that this would take money away from public schools and destroy public education in Massachusetts."

In a blog post outlining why he'll be voting no on Question 2, Christopher Martell, a professor of Social Studies Education at Boston University, wrote, "If this ballot question passes, it would have a devastating impact on our local public school districts. It would continue to weaken traditional public schools, which serve 96 percent of the state's students. This ballot question will possibly lead to a two-tiered education system in Massachusetts, with the negative impacts exacerbated in our urban communities."

Warning that so-called education reformers' success on the measure could spread to other states, Ravitch wrote: "What happens on November 8 will matter to the future of public education in America. "

School Takeovers in Georgia

Meanwhile, voters in Georgia will also vote Nov. 8 on a measure that could foster charter school expansion.

Amendment 1 would allow the state to take over "chronically failing" schools. It would take away control from local boards of education and would allow the governor to appoint a superintendent who could then choose to turn them over to charter operators. It was modeled after the Recovery School District in Louisiana and the Achievement School District in Tennessee.

WSAV calls it "the most talked about potential change to the Georgia state constitution this election year."

An 11alive poll released Tuesday found the opposition ahead—54 percent to 29 percent.

Sid Chapman, president of the Georgia Education Association, warned that if voters do choose to amend the state constitution, "Public schools as we know [them] could go away."

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