Community forum debates Question 2

By Dan Curtin

(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian)
(Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian)

Students, faculty and members of the community met Tuesday night in the Integrative Learning Center to discuss the benefits and ramifications regarding Question 2, and how the voting this November will impact public and charter schools going forward.

Question 2 is a proposal on whether or not to increase the role of charter schools in Massachusetts. The forum featured an expert panel including supporters on both sides of the issue, who received questions from a media panel as well from people in attendance and on Twitter.

A “yes” vote on Question 2 would authorize the addition of 12 new charter schools, or the expansion of enrollment in existing charter schools each year by the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education. A “no” vote would maintain the current charter school cap.

William Diehl, Executive Director of Collaborative for Educational Services and supporter of the no vote, spoke as an expert panelist on how this issue is stigmatizing.

“I do want to say out front that this is a very complex issue. I recognize that people of good will, intelligence and analyst skills who care deeply about the education of children can end up on different conclusions,” Diehl said. “But the results, whatever they may be, will be extremely hard to turn back.”

There are currently 78 operating charters in the state and the cap is 120 charters operating at one point, according to the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Charter Schools first came to Massachusetts as part of the Education Reform Act of 1993.

Marc Kenen, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Charter School Association and Julia Mejia, a parent of students at Brooke Charter Schools Boston, were on the expert panel and spoke on why it’s important that people vote “yes” on Question 2.

“This referendum question is focused entirely on our urban communities. This is not about suburbs, this is not about rural Western Mass. This is about cities in Massachusetts where children and families are struggling to get basic educational needs met,” Kenen said.

Charter Schools have a goal to prioritize applicants that are in the bottom 25 percent districts.

There is currently a debate on whether or not charter schools take funding away from public schools, but according to the Department of Education, the percent of reimbursements to districts in 2016 is 62 percent.

In addition to William Diehl, Barbara Madeloni, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, talked about the reality that people would face if there is a “yes” vote for Question 2.

“I think a ‘yes’ vote really puts us in the position to profoundly undermine public education…If we were to pass this we would be losing 100 million more each year in perpetuity. That would eventually destabilize public schools. Districts are going to have to start making cuts. Those cuts are real whether it’s art, librarian, music, [or] language programs,” Madeloni said.

The open forum, titled “Raise the Charter School Cap?” was sponsored by the Daily Hampshire Gazette, The Recorder, The Valley Advocate, WHMP, NCTV, UMass Journalism Department and League of Women Voters according to the events website.

The forum featured arguments from both sides, but supporters of each side from the expert table and in the audience were ardent in their support for “yes” or “no.” Leslie Fisher-Katz, 53, was in attendance of the forum.

“I’m 1,000 percent bored with the other side’s position; it has nothing to do with what’s good for kids, it’s 100 percent about what’s good for the [teachers’] union, what’s good for jobs, schools, but not about what is good for kids,” Fisher-Katz said.

At one point during the forum, Marc Kenen and Julia Mejia had to address people in the back of the auditorium for being disrespectful and creating an intimidating atmosphere. The event continued after this without any other incidents occurring.

Mejia offered a unique perspective from someone who has insider’s experience with charter schools.

“If the cap doesn’t get lifted that’s going to be less opportunities and resources for families to get out. It would be a devastating blow for those seeking opportunity,” Mejia said.

Dan Curtin can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @dmcurtin96.