To the editor:
We agree with former Mayor Clare Higgins in her March 28 column that the State Legislature should fully fund the program that reimburses districts for school funds they lose to charters. But, we disagree with her assessment that the creation of charters has resulted in a parallel school system that pits families against each other.
The tone of Mayor Higgins article was very thoughtful, but the tenor of the debate over charters across the state, and in Northampton, has been anything but. The sad reality is that districts have set that tone, spreading misinformation about the financial impact of charters and who they serve. And this has bred tension in those communities.
Charters were created to provide an opportunity for parents to seek a public school alternative if they felt their home district was not meeting their children’s needs.
In the 20 years they have been in existence in Massachusetts, they have fostered new models of public education that have resulted in successes that have been recognized nationally by independent researchers and academics. In fact, Massachusetts charter system is held up as a national model for standards, accountability and performance.
Demand for charter seats has never been higher and polls have consistently shown that support surpasses opposition by a 2-1 margin.
The charter enrollment process is based on a random lottery. State government data shows that charters enroll far higher percentages of minorities, low-income and at-risk children than districts. Enrollment of special needs children and English Language learners has been climbing rapidly, reducing the disparity referred to by the former mayor. The funding formula is based on the notion that if the district no longer educates children who enroll in charters, they should not be allowed to keep the money. The “partial” reimbursement the mayor notes actually runs for six years and covers 225% of the lost funds.
Charters are not the enemy. We have always intended to be partners in public education. It’s time for the bitterness to end and the partnership to begin.
The writer is the executive director of Massachusetts Charter Public School Association.