On November 8th, Massachusetts voters will find four referenda questions on their election ballot. Each has import, but Question Two has the profoundest significance.

Question Two asks voters to approve or disapprove a proposed law by which the current limitation on allowed number of “charter” schools will be set aside, according to a formula. Thus I quote the entire Question as it will be annotated on your ballot :

“Question 2 would give the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education the authority to approve 12 new charter schools or to expand existing charter schools as a result of increased enrollment each year beginning on January 1, 2017. Priority would be given to those charter school applicants who seek to open a charter school in public school districts that are in the bottom 25 percent in the two years before application. Further, the Board would establish standards by which annual performance reviews would be judged.”

We support this initiative because ( 1 )  if taxpayers are to be asked to pay for the education of our state’s children, said children should receive the best dollar of value for every dollar taxed. No education process is perfect, but government should seek the best feasible method and ( 2 ) because education is crucial for the child: for her acquiring knowledge and skills wherewith to succeed in life both socially and in employment; and to settle for less than the best we can establish is a fraud upon the child,m her parents, and the taxpayer.

There should never be any limitation on what kind of school, or what number, that we ask taxpayers to pay for so long as the objective is to maximize every child’s learning opportunities. Supporters of the current method — the common school — look to Horace Mann’s purpose, as he expressed it 170-odd years ago, to assure that every child in a community received the same education in the same classroom, so as to promote community solidarity and equality of opportunity. These were radical goals at the time and well justified. They’re essential today as well. But today other imperatives make a less uniform classroom even more essential. Not every child is going to enter the same type of career, or work with the same skills set, or live by the same intellectual keys. Innovation thrives by diversity of outlook, of assumption, of habits; and innovation is the pathway to a future in which the only thing common to all will be the uncommonness of everybody to everybody else.

The great danger of a diversity approach to education is that it will promote class differences and institutionalize them. This is a very real difficulty. But our society is capable of recognizing the danger and avoiding it. All that’s needed is to recognize that different careers are equally worthy. How to do that ? Simple : pay a worthy wage to each such different career. There’s no inherent reason why a bartender should earn less than a code writer, a home health aide less than a nurse, a CIA language translator less than an FBI detective. Granted that not all paychecks are ever likely to be identical; but there is nothing inevitable about their being 100 times different from each other. If we pay differing careers a worthy paycheck, one earner will not feel inferior to another, or be made to feel so, or to socialize separately, as often happens these days.

Which being said, the diversity method of education will require a transformation of social assumption. I think we can handle it. Our nation has never been driven by adherence to old ways.

To go back to the Question itself : opponents claim that charter school;s “drain money from the standard school.” Nothing could be more false. If a system has, say, 60,000 students, and now 10,000 of them choose a charter school, that’s 10,000 less students the standard school system has to employ staff for, 10,000 less students it has to maintain school facilities for. 10,000 students choosing a charter school should thus have a zero dollar effect upon the District’s school budget.

In that vein, the “compensation” that MGL c. 70 provides to school District budgets is a fraud upon the taxpayer., What si there to compensate ? The students who choose a charter school; and thus depart the standard District SAVE the District money rather than COST it. The only reason we have c. 70 “compensation”: is because school employee unions refuse to allow the District to lay off staff or downsize school capacity. (Example : in Boston, we maintain plant for 91,000 students, but only 57,000 attend. There should be substantial closings of excess plant; about $ 50 million of the District’s $ 1.03 BILLION could be saved and thus applied to needed classrooms, starved now for supplies funds because staffing and overcapacity soak up those funds. In addition, why does the District pay 4 13 million this year to 100 teachers who do not work because no principal will have them ?)

The refusal of Districts to downsize staff and plant and thus to apply millions of taxpayer dollars to accounts that service nothing is a fraud upon the taxpayer and must be stopped. If Question 2 passes, and children now choose something more challenging than the standard offering, good for them, and good for the taxpayer who has every right to want accountability and success, not stubborn insistence on vested gridlock.

Vote YES on Question 2.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere


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