The BLOG: Politics and Law

On charter schools, let the parents choose

Charter school supporters march on Beacon Hill earlier this year to demand that lawmakers lift the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Massachusetts (NewBostonPost photo by Evan Lips)

Charter school supporters march on Beacon Hill earlier this year to demand that lawmakers lift the cap on the number of charter schools allowed in Massachusetts (NewBostonPost photo by Evan Lips)

In November, Massachusetts residents will vote on Question 2, which, if passed, would allow the State Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to authorize up to 12 new charter schools across the Commonwealth. If more than 12 applications for charter schools are received, the Board would favor schools that would be accessible to students in the lowest-performing school districts in the state.

Gov. Baker supports lifting the cap, as do some Democrat lawmakers. However, the NAACP opposes the increase in charter schools, as do many Democrat lawmakers. In Philadelphia, the DNC made opposition to charter schools part of its platform.

The NAACP voiced concerns about “separate but equal” educational opportunities for minority students. However, minority parents, especially those who live in Boston, are among the strongest supporters of school choice in the Commonwealth: 81 percent of African-American parents and 86 percent of Latino parents support Question 2. Almost three-quarters of Boston parents support increasing enrollment at charter schools. Statewide, the bill has the support of just over half of likely voters, but over half of people with advanced degrees oppose the measure.

Parents in suburban communities may not have many choices for their students, but the local school districts are among the best in the nation. That stands in sharp contrast to inner-city parents, who, if the numbers are any indication, are desperate for non-traditional choices for their children.

Boston exam schools are extremely prestigious and provide amazing opportunities to city students; however, enrollment of underrepresented minorities has decreased over the last decade. (Charter schools, on the other hand, enroll a disproportionate number of minority students.) Admission is extremely competitive, and the schools use GPA and test scores as their exclusive metrics. Exam schools are an outstanding option for unusually talented students, just as top-performing suburban public schools are an outstanding option for parents who can afford to live there.

The Metco program, a popular desegregation effort that buses students from Boston and Springfield to nearby suburban schools, accepts approximately 3,000 students annually, but another 10,000 are on a waiting list. The Pioneer Institute called for an expansion of Metco to provide options for the thousands of students who want that choice. Likewise, approximately 10,000 Boston students are enrolled in charter schools, and another 12,000 in Boston alone are on waitlists. (Boston Public Schools enroll approximately 57,000 students in total.) Statewide, the divide between available seats in charter schools and desire to enroll is no less striking: There are almost as many students on the waitlist as there are seats in charter schools.

While the Metco waitlists and the charter school waitlists likely overlap, it points to a strong desire for parents, especially those in inner cities, to have meaningful choices for their children’s education. The super-smart students and wealthy families have options; Question 2 expands options for those students who are not exceptionally gifted and of more modest means.

Those who are closest to the school-choice issue – parents of students in city schools – are those who overwhelmingly support school choice, both in the polls and “voting with their feet.” The most press goes to the positions of members of the state house and senate, Governor Baker, and even the NAACP, but the desires of actual parents who want their children to succeed ought to be the focus of discussion of school choice.

Birdget L. Fay

Birdget L. Fay

Bridget L. Fay is an attorney and a former chemical engineer. She resides in Massachusetts.