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Tool Kit for Charter Advocates

HELP MOVE THE MOVEMENT!

Our state’s first charter public school opened in 1995, and since then, enrollment has risen steadily. Today, 70 charters provide high-quality, free education alternatives to more than 34,000 children across Massachusetts. 

If charter public school supporters like you had their way, that figure would be more than double: nearly 45,000 kids are on wait lists. Maybe your child used to be one of them. Maybe your child is still waiting for a chance at a quality charter school education.  Maybe you have friends or family who are frustrated by wait lists.  Or maybe you are simply someone who supports access to high quality education for all kids, regardless of where they live.  

Massachusetts is one of 26 states, along with Washington, DC, that have a cap on charter schools.  That is, they restrict the number of charter schools and/or the number of students a single school can enroll.  The Massachusetts Charter Public School Association is working hard to lift that cap – to open up more seats for kids across the Commonwealth.  Will you help us?  Your voice is powerful!

SPEAK OUT!  TOGETHER, WE CAN LIFT THE CAP

How can you help?

SHARE YOUR STORY

Why are charter public schools important to you?  Why do you want to see the cap lifted?  If you are a charter school parent or a parent with a child on a charter school waiting list, you have a powerful story to share with neighbors, friends, lawmakers, and the media. 

Start with your friends and neighbors and download and share a brochure in English or in Spanish.

The key to lifting the cap is building a network of charter school advocates. All of us have a “circle of influence,” be it small or large. Tell everyone in yours why they need to support charter public schools. Just tell your story.  And for those who respond positively, urge them to get involved.

Call them individually. Write each of them a letter or an email. Tell them all at once on Facebook or Twitter! Write a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. Or host a house party, preferably one that involves cookies! Be sure to encourage everyone to write or call their legislator.

COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR STATE LEGISLATORS

The power of grassroots advocates cannot be overstated.  When a lawmaker hears directly from his/her constituents on an issue, it matters.  There are many ways to apply pressure and influence on lawmakers, but most important is to speak up and communicate your opinions clearly, persuasively, and frequently!  Below are some tips and suggestions to help you communicate with your state senator and state representative.

Find out who your lawmakers are and how to contact them.

If you are unsure who your lawmakers are, you can find them by clicking here.  Put in your home mailing address, and it will tell you the names of your state representative and state senator.

Next, you’ll want to find out how to contact them by phone and/or by email by clicking here.  Plug in their name or location and it will take you to an information page where you will find a telephone number and an email address.

Learn a little bit about your lawmakers.

If time allows, it would be great to gather a little bit of information about your lawmakers.  Probably most important is to know whether they are supportive or not of charter schools.  But if you don’t know their position, ask!  It would also be helpful to know what charter schools are in their district.  Read their biography online, ask friends and neighbors what they know about him/her, or just do a quick Google search to see what you can discover.

Prepare your talking points

If you are meeting with a lawmaker or calling his/her office, you won’t have much time to deliver your message.  It is important to understand that lawmakers are very busy and must deal with lots of different meetings, issues, and individuals each and every day.  This means that they may only have a few brief minutes to speak with us.  We must be direct and to the point!

Utilize the talking points and fact sheets we have shared with you to put together a few main points that you’d like to cover.  Be sure to include the following in your message:

  • Your name
  • Where you live
  • Why you are reaching out to them/meeting with them – to express your support for lifting the cap on charter public schools
  • Why you support charter schools
  • An ask:  Will they will support legislation to lift the cap?  Wait for an answer if you are speaking with them, and ask for an answer if you are emailing.

Remember that less is definitely more!  You don’t need to list a bunch of facts or statistics.  Your personal story as a parent or business leader who supports charter public schools is most effective of all.

Contacting your lawmakers

There are many ways to contact your lawmakers.  The best way to do it is to utilize multiple approaches!  Reach out more than once and in more than one way if that’s possible.  Options include:

  • Phone call
  • Meet with them at their State House office – it is best to call and request an appointment
  • Meet with them at their in-district office hours – most lawmakers host open office hours once a month in the district, sometimes at a public library or municipal building.  Call their State House office to ask when they have district meeting hours.  Click here to find your lawmakers.
  • Email
  • Hand-written letter
  • In person at your charter school:  You can invite your legislator to any school event that highlights its success or its place in the community, such as  a ribbon cutting, a student project day, a luncheon, an annual meeting, a community event, or a school tour. After that first visit, try to get your legislator into your school at least once a year.

How to handle the “What If’s”:

What if they ask me for more information?

Let us know and we’ll follow up!  You can contact our Parent Organizer, Julia Mejia at 917-202-8064 or jmejia@masscharterschools.org.

What if they say they don’t support charter schools?

Listen to their concerns.  Try not to get argumentative or defensive.  Always be respectful in tone of voice, body language, and what you say.  Continue to express your support for charter schools and why you believe the cap must be lifted.  Let us know what concerns they expressed so we can follow up.

What if they say they aren’t sure whether or not they support charter schools?

Ask what concerns they have.  Ask what information they might need to make their decision.  Let us know what they say so we can follow up.

What if they aren’t respectful of me or my opinion?

Remember first of all, that you have every right to contact your lawmakers.  They represent YOU so don’t back down on your opinion or feel intimidated.  But keep in mind that they are individuals with their own personalities – some are nice, some are rude.  What’s most important is that you always remain respectful in your tone of voice, body language, and what you say – even if you don’t get the same in return.

What if I only get to meet with or talk to a staff person?

This is not at all unusual and you should not be disappointed!  Staff members are the eyes and ears of the lawmakers and it is super important to build a relationship with them.  Treat staff with the same respect you would treat the lawmaker and ask that staff members report back on their boss’ position.

What if I try to schedule a meeting and don’t get a call back?

Keep trying!  Be persistent!  You can just “pop in” – but there is no guarantee that you will get to meet with someone if you do that.

TALKING POINTS

Demand for charter schools is high and current caps are holding kids back from high quality education.

  • There is a real and growing demand for charter public schools that cannot be met by current restrictions.
  • As of May 2014, there were nearly 45,000 students statewide on charter public school waiting lists.   In Boston alone, there are 20,000 on the wait list.  Statewide, that is a 15% increase in demand in just one year!
  • In Boston, Lawrence, Fall River, and Holyoke, charter schools are already at their cap, unable to serve more students without a cap lift.

Charter public schools are providing high quality education, especially in underperforming districts.

  • Charter schools are public schools that achieve proven results, especially in underperforming districts.
  • Charter school students in Boston, Lawrence, and other urban areas, where charters serve mostly low income families and students of color, are ranking among the highest in the state on MCAS.
  • According to the March 2013 report from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University, “The average growth rate of Boston charter students in math and reading is the largest CREDO has seen in any city or state thus far.”
  • In Boston, charter public school students are learning at double the rate of Boston district students, achieving two years of academic progress in English and math for every year they are enrolled in a charter (compared to district students).
  • Due to their non-unionized status, teacher hiring and firing in charter public schools is based on performance, which provides built-in accountability for overall school performance.

Charter Public Schools are meeting the need for equity in education

According to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), charter public schools are serving MORE students from low income families; MORE children of color; and, MORE children for whom English is not their first language or are not English proficient than traditional public schools.  And, charters are catching up in serving students in special education as well.

2013-2014 Demographics

Charter Public Schools

Traditional Public Schools

First Language Not English

22.5%

17.8%

Limited English Proficient

8.7%

7.9%

Low-Income

53.7%

38.3%

African-American

28.7%

8.7%

Hispanic

27.4%

17%

Special Education

13.6%

17%

  • Among Boston charter public high schools, special education enrollment is higher than the district average, and the highest performing charter public schools have higher special education populations than the highest performing district schools.

A bill is pending in the Legislature that would lift the cap on charter public schools.

  • Currently, there is legislation pending in the Legislature, H 4108, called An Act Relative to Improving Student Achievement which was passed by the Massachusetts House of Representatives and is now in the Massachusetts Senate for consideration that would lift the current cap on charter public schools.
  • Lifting the cap on charter schools will significantly expand educational opportunities.
  • All children should have access to quality education, regardless of where they live.
 

WRITE A LETTER TO YOUR LOCAL NEWSPAPER

Letters to the editor are a powerful and FREE way to communicate with decision-makers and express your support for lifting the cap on charter public schools!  State and local lawmakers pay a great deal of attention to what is written in their local newspapers, and are very interested in the Opinion section, which is where letters to the editor are printed.  While it takes a little bit of time to craft a letter, it’s time well spent if it gets published.  Below are some tips for writing letters that are more likely to get printed. 

  • Check the paper’s guidelines for writing letters, which should be stated on the editorial page.
  • Include your name, address, and daytime telephone number.
  • Your letter should not exceed the word limit specified by the paper – generally this is 250 words or less.
  • Some newspapers have online submission features, i.e. you can copy and paste your letter directly into a text box and click “submit”.  In other cases, you will need to email your letter to the newspaper. 
  • Use the talking points we’ve provided about why lifting the cap on charter public schools is important and   describe why this issue is important to you personally. Do you have a child in a charter school?  Are you on a wait list?  Has a charter school education helped your child?  Briefly share your story!
  • If you receive a phone call from the newspaper, return the call!  Newspapers often phone letter writers to confirm the submission.

Papers may print letters to the editor each day or once weekly.  Letters to the editor may be published right away, can take weeks, or may never appear in print.   Don’t get discouraged if your letter doesn’t get printed – try again!

KEEP IN TOUCH WITH US!

The MCPSA’s growing network of parents and other charter school supporters needs you.   Please keep in touch with us and let us know how we can help you.

Join our email list. To stay up-to-date on pertinent legislation, Lobby Days, and what’s happening in the movement in general, sign up for emails at our website by clicking here.

Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Give us a call or drop us an email -- we want to hear your stories and ideas!

Parent Organizer, Julia Mejia, 917-202-8064 or jmejia@masscharterschools.org

Remember, 45,000 kids need your help. We need to lift the cap on charter schools in Massachusetts, and it’s parents like you who are going to make it happen. Be a mover in our movement!