Why I Am Voting "Yes" On Massachusetts Ballot Question Two

When Boston desegregated its schools, two decades had passed since the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education. My mother was a rookie teacher in Roxbury during that era, and her stories of being a White educator in a Black neighborhood rung through my early childhood. We ended up living in New Jersey for my school age years, but when I came to live in Massachusetts as an adult, to run an education nonprofit, the intervening decades had made a mockery of the concept of desegregation and its “deliberate speed.” Boston, and its schools, are more segregated now than ever, while many Massachusetts suburbs are among the Whitest municipalities in the entire United States. That segregation shows up as significant disparities in life outcomes, educational attainment, and resource allocation. Despite the fact that Massachusetts has “the best” public schools in the country by many standards, that excellence is far from universal, as White students in the suburbs are thriving, while on average, their peers of color receive a lower quality education.

Statewide 4th Grade Reading Proficiency, Student Percentage By Race

Statewide 4th Grade Math Proficiency, Percentages By Race

Statewide 8th Grade Reading Proficiency, Percentage By Race

Statewide 8th Grade Math Proficiency, Percentage By Race

Source for all data: http://www.doe.mass.edu/mcas/naep/results/2015ReadingMath.pdf

This history, and the results it has engendered, constitute the fundamental lens through which I view ballot question two, which asks voters in the Commonwealth to opine on whether or not to raise the statutory cap on charter schools. In a state with segregated communities and outcomes, charter schools do a better job of serving the most vulnerable children. This is not an opinion; it is an empirical fact. I want the Commonwealth to do something about the vast segregation and opportunity gaps in all schools, but it is immoral to further constrain vulnerable children's options while the state’s lawmakers struggle to find their consciences.

The messy politics of this issue, and the constant stream of negative messaging attached to it, have overcomplicated a simple fact: Massachusetts’s traditional schools and municipalities, for decades, have struggled to meet the needs of the state's most vulnerable children, while the state’s charter schools are doing better with kids of similar backgrounds. Those traditional schools, whose poor performance generates the need for charters in the first place, are the ones fighting expansion. The cap on public charter schools affects only nine urban communities in the state, while over two hundred school committees have voted to oppose the creation of new high quality public charter schools.

In other words, for forty years, White people have fled the cities of Massachusetts, and now their electoral might gives them veto power over expanding great schools for the vulnerable kids in those cities.

There are plenty of reasons to support voting “yes” on question two. Public charters in Massachusetts perform at a higher level relative to comparable schools, and polling suggests that there is a political preference for raising the cap in the affected communities. In addition, there is quantifiable demand for more charter schools in the capped communities, as thousands of families are on charter school waiting lists. When that demand is coupled with the waiting list for the METCO busing program, which has failed to grow because suburban communities refuse to create more space for low-income children, the need for greater options is even clearer. Harvard, Stanford, MIT, and the Brookings Institution all agree that charters in this state are working for the communities that need them most, and The Boston Globe, The Boston Herald, and former United States Senator Mo Cowan have endorsed lifting the cap.

I will be voting yes, not just for these reasons, but also because raising the cap is a moral imperative. The communities affected by the cap constitute a few of the majority non-White municipalities in a state that is almost eighty percent White overall. Polling confirms my personal experience, which is that these communities are impatient with the bickering and are eager to have more great schools. Opening more charter schools in those communities will have no effect on the financial position of the three hundred forty-two municipalities in the state that have not reached the cap, despite the opposition’s arguments to the contrary. Allowing the political objectives of White suburban voters to trump the educational needs of children of color is shameful. I am the product of suburban public schools, albeit in a different state, but I can testify to the fact that the interests of White suburban voters - even the progressive ones - are not necessarily congruent with the interests of communities of color in cities.

Demographics of Massachusetts

Towns Opposed to Raising the Cap

Towns Affected by the Charter Cap

Expanding charter schools in Massachusetts will not solve all of the Commonwealth’s educational problems. We need more high quality early childhood programs for vulnerable kids, improvement incentives for traditional district schools, and greater diversity and integration throughout the state. None of those things, however, are on the table right now, whereas voters have a chance to expand a program that is working for the kids who need it most. We should put our morals ahead of municipal politics and vote “yes" on question two.